First place: Happy Trails
Happy Trails is Corvallis, Ore.’s most beloved vintage music shop. Upon walking in, the walls are covered with posters and records, CD’s fill the narrow hallways and music is always playing. The store has been open since 1973 and the current owners bought it and 1988.
The store offers 12-inch vinyl, cassettes, stickers, t-shirts, trades, collectables and more. Located on the corner of Third Street and Monroe Avenue.
Dave Trenkel has worked at Happy Trails for decades and has seen the store change and become what it is today. He works a few evenings a week and enjoys picking out what record he’s going to throw on the record player each day. He was stumped when trying to come up with his top three favorite band of all time.
“You have to understand, I’ve been an avid music collector for over 40 years, that’s kind of an impossible question,” Trenkel said. “Well I’m currently listening to Miles Davis, he’d probably be there, King Crimson, gosh I don’t know, it’s so hard. The Weather Report, maybe.”
Trenkel said he loves working at the music store because not only is he surrounded by what he loves, it turns out to be quite the social job as well.
“One of the things that’s really changed, well I’ve worked here since the 90s, we used to be on Second Street, but moved to this location around 2003, but the biggest difference is that in the 90s we were doing much much more business than we are now,” Trenkel said. “If you wanted to buy music you had to go to a record store and buy a CD, that was the primary way to get music. We’re a much smaller business now, but the people who do come in are the ones who are really engaged in music.”
Trenkel said that back then, all walks of people would come into the store, not just music lovers, because it was the only way to get a new CD. Now, though the store is smaller and more intimate, the true music lovers still make the trek out to browse through hundreds of records and CD’s for fun.
Aleko Hovekamp, a third-year chemical engineering student, said Happy Trails reminds him of his home town.
“I grew up in Bend and there’s a record store there called Ranch Records. It has a similar feel with the posters and the feel with the music playing in the background,” Hovekamp said. “I don’t usually buy CDs and vinyl, but when a new album comes out that I really love I’ll sometimes get the real thing.”
Happy Trails also sells tickets for local shows and will give cash for used CDs and vinyls. Monday through Thursday the store closes at 7 p.m., but is open until 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday to cater to the weekend downtown strollers.
Second place: Bullfrog Music
Bullfrog music has been in business for 17 years. They’ve occupied their current location on Second Street for about three years now and are loving it. The store doesn’t sell music, but the instruments themselves from acoustic guitars, madeleines, to ukulele. They also carry electric guitars so you can find amplifiers and miscellaneous accessories.
Kurt Dietrich has owned Bullfrog since its beginning and says business stays consistent.
“You’d think there would eventually be a saturation of instruments floating around,” Dietrich said. “But I sell new instruments every day, I sell guitars to the kids of the parents I sold guitars to.”
Bullfrog Music is most known for the personal and satisfactory service they provide. Dietrich is known on a first name basis by most of his customers. It is this connection that keeps all his favorite customers coming back, whether that be to get a tune up, buy a new set of strings or maybe even a new instrument itself.
“All guitars need to be serviced throughout their lifetime. Necks need to be adjusted, string action, height needs to be adjusted,” Dietrich said. “Generally speaking, to get this work done on most guitars is $30-40 a pop, but when you buy the guitar from me you get the service for free for the life of the guitar.”
Bullfrog offers customers the opportunity to feel the instruments physically, play them, buy them and then get them serviced however often needed.
Third place: Fingerboard Extension
The Fingerboard Extension has been open for over 40 years. They sell a variety of fretted instruments and say that most of their business comes from customers coming in to buy low-end beginner guitars. As beginners progress through their musical journey, the store offers high-end expensive instruments ranging from a couple hundred dollars to four thousand.
Keta Tom was co-owner of The Fingerboard Extension with her late husband. Since then, she has taken it upon herself to own, run and operate the business. What makes the Fingerboard Extension unique from other music stores in Corvallis is the atmosphere. The store features long wood paneling that covers the walls, while art deco light fixtures dimly lit the floor to a nice glow.
“Most people say this is the most beautiful guitar store they’ve ever been in,” Tom said. “The wood on the walls is a great advantage because it doesn’t only mute some of the sound, but prevents smudging and damage.”
The room inside is immense, with the capacity to carry hundreds of instruments at a time. Tucked in a side room is a small drum collection for sale, as well as shelves of treasured old music books. The store also carries strings, tools and anything you’d need to tend to your instrument. Tom repairs instruments brought in to her, alongside her coworker who helps manage the customers.
“Something no one knows is that there’s a karate studio in the back,” Tom said. “How often do you know of people practicing karate in the back of a store surrounded by guitars.”
Behind the wall where customer’s can’t see, Tom and her close friends have evening practices a few times a week, adding yet another whimsical aspect to The Fingerboard Extension.