The neighborhood music shop opens the doors at its new location on Lincoln Avenue with expanded lesson rooms, a growing inventory of vinyl records, and a stable of professional instructors.
By Matt Skoufalos
Ted Velykis got his start in music education the way a lot of musicians do.
“I inherited my job from a guy in my band who moved away,” he said.
Pleased with the work but dissatisfied with the depth of his knowledge, Velykis went back to school to earn a degree in music theory.
At Rutgers, one of his instructors asked if he’d be interested in teaching lessons, and he knew he was onto something.
For the next 15 years, Velykis guided amateur musicians through their scales and charts in a small Collingswood apartment before landing his own, street-level space on Haddon Avenue.
After hiring a few friends and hanging a few vintage instruments on the wall, he opened for business as Collingswood Music.
“I never took out a loan for this business,” Velykis said. “I never intended to have a music shop. I intended it to be an academic thing.”
Now, as the shop enters its eighth year, Velykis has refined the recipe to a family-friendly storefront “where a nine-year-old can come in and feel welcome with [his or her]mom.”
New location, new look
This month, Collingswood Music migrated a few blocks down Haddon Avenue to an expanded storefront on Lincoln Avenue, next door to DiBartolo Bakery.
In a building that once housed an old post office, Velykis will expand upon his original model while also offering a bigger retail inventory and more services in a fresher, brighter space.
The interior features exposed masonry, track lighting, and a refinished cement floor pad. The exterior is a brand new, glass-and-framework fabrication built by Victoriana East of Merchantville.
Most importantly, the larger footprint adds a fourth, private lesson room, plus an executive office that can double as a fifth instructional area as needed. Classroom doors and transom windows salvaged from the Friends School in Mullica Hill add to the soundproofing of rooms reinforced with double sheetrock, steel beams, and rock wool.
The acoustically-dampened construction will also allow Collingswood Music to offer drum and percussion lessons for the first time, Velykis said.
“We’ve had a call for it in the past, but we could never do it because there was a tenant upstairs in the old space,” he said.
After a couple years of stockpiling, the Lincoln Avenue store will also buy, sell, and trade new and used vinyl records, with titles starting from $1, and “classic albums for a good price,” Velykis said.
The rest of the inventory is a bit of a hodgepodge. Current finds include an old four-track cassette and reel-to-reel machine among the vintage instruments, turntables, and amplifiers.
Collingswood Music also offers accessories from guitar strings to woodwind reeds, rents all elementary school-age instruments, and provides repair services as needed. Catalogues of sheet music, artist folios; even books about music also line the shelves.
Working musicians on staff
Even with those auxiliary services, weekly lessons are still the key to the shop’s longevity, at $25 apiece ($3 per session discounts are offered for families bringing two or more children).
Some students are approaching a decade of instruction, and the ten tutors on staff, including Velykis, are all trained in traditional music reading.
“All our teachers are educated, working musicians that have been out there in bands and ensembles, doing real music,” Velykis said.
“They can teach you more than how to read the dots. They can talk to you about what it’s like to be a musician; how to prepare you for that life if it’s something you choose to do.”
Philadelphian Scott Churchman is one such example. The 29-year-old University of the Arts graduate has been teaching at Collingswood Music for five years, during three of which he’s toured as the bassist for early rock icon Chubby Checker.
The flexible scheduling that Velykis offers allows Churchman to pursue his dream and tour with a living legend while banking a steady paycheck.
Churchman said that when he comes back from the road, he’s got stories for students from performances in Germany, Australia, Chile, Canada.
They in turn “have somebody who’s working as a positive thing to look up to, or a realistic thing,” he said.
“When I can’t make lessons it’s because I’m doing what I’m teaching you to do,” Churchman said.
“You go to other [schools]and you’ll learn just rock songs, or it’s a stuffy classical thing,” he said, “but here it’s both. We’re teaching kids how to read music and all that other stuff, but we want them to have fun doing it.”
Collingswood Music will celebrate its grand re-opening at the September 13 Second Saturday celebration with a student recital and live, in-store performances from local musicians MONKO, She Hates Me, The Front Porch Quartet, and Pete Donnelly.
Its new location at 9 Lincoln Avenue will be open from 12 p.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday.