‘End of an era:’ Ridgefield Music turns down the sound

“The end of an era — or an error,” Chris Pike said with a laugh. “Depends on how you look at it.”

Pike closed the doors of Ridgefield Music this week after almost 50 years in operation — the last 25 under his ownership.

Ridgefield Music was a little storefront in the shopping center off Governor Street, across from Veterans Parks School, that had guitars on the walls, guitars hanging from the ceiling, stacks of amplifiers and drums in the center of the room, with keyboards around the edges, sheet music up front, picks behind the counter, and lessons going on in back.

“At peak we would easily have had 60 guitars, eight drum sets, four keyboards, a dozen amplifiers,” Pike said. “At peak we had close to 300 students.”

Musicians of all descriptions found Ridgefield Music a welcoming refuge under the stewardship of Pike — a musician himself who’s in three bands and plays drums, piano, guitar, bass, pennywhistle and recorder.

“Let’s stop there,” he said, “because, mandolin and banjo, I can make them sound like those instruments, but I’m not really a player. There’s a very clear distinction, for me.”

The bands he’s been playing with lately also testify to Pike’s flexibility. Bone Dry plays “acoustic rock,” he said, while Stoneband does “classic rock” and Americo Carrasco — “that’s jazz.”

He also plays pretty regularly with Barnstorm, which does “Grateful Dead and country rock.”

For many years, he was part of a “wedding band” called SRO.

In addition to playing regularly with those bands, Pike often sits in with others — a good drummer can always find gigs filling in.

The end of Ridgefield Music’s good long run under Pike benevolent leadership will be celebrated with local musicians jamming at the Redding Roadhouse Tuesday, Aug. 6.

“One of my bandmates had a burning desire to throw a party,” Pike said. ”I only agreed — I said, ‘There’s not going to be any speeches. It’s not going to be one of those affairs. Party, and jam.’”

Sounds and stories

The store has a lot of history.

“Marty Piter was the guy who started the store. It was over behind Ridgefield Mobil,” Pike said.

“Marty started it in 1970, moved it over to this location around 1977.

Joe and Marlene Cardillo owned the store next.

Pike worked there about nine years, starting about 1985 or ’86, before taking over the business in 1994.

Ridgefield Music was more than just a place to buy stuff.

“We do sales, of course,” Pike said. “We did lessons. We did rentals, repairs … bad jokes.”

A variety of music lessons were offered over the years, between Pike and a rotating cast of teachers.

“All the common stuff — guitar, piano, bass drums,” he said. “We’ve had brass, woodwind and strings teachers.

“The most exotic thing, we actually had a mountain dulcimer teacher at one point.”

‘Great luck’

He confesses Ridgefield Music has been pretty good to him.

“I earned a living, number one. It allowed me to earn a living in the music business, which is what I went to school for.”

After graduating from Ridgefield High School in 1979, he did four years at the Berklee College of Music in Boston.

Running the store, he got to meet and talk to all kinds of musicians. And he got to know a lot of good young kids who worked for him in the store.

“For the most part, I had great luck with hires,” he said.

Cultural shift

Things have been changing, though. Pike feels there’s been a cultural shift, as well as changes in the local business climate that suggest it’s time to close the store.

Culture-wide, the thinking “I need something, let me go to the store” has now become “I need something, let me go to the internet,” Pike said.

Even in music education, motivated people can teach themselves to play instruments using lessons on the internet.

And, the local business climate is tougher.

“When I bought the store, we were the only music store in town, and the only central music lesson provider,” he said. “Now there’s five other places that give lessons and one other music store.”

And there’s also a big “guitar center” in Danbury.

Going to Carolina

What’s next for Pike?

“I’m going to leave that up to the universe,” he said.

He’s moving to North Carolina, where his parents live.

“They’re not getting younger,” he said. “I’ll help them by moving in, and they’ll help me by giving me a place to land.”

Preston Murphy, Pike’s last employee in the final days of the store, had a different view of Pike’s landing in North Carolina.

“You’re going to be playing all the time,” he said. “You know bluegrass!”