Business

Deering runs over to Ericksen Avenue

Music store owner and instructor Barbara Deering - KATHRYN HAINES/Staff Photo
Music store owner and instructor Barbara Deering
— image credit: KATHRYN HAINES/Staff Photo

While the old Petula Clark song may extol “the music of the traffic in the city,” the high-energy environment of Winslow’s main street didn’t appeal to Barbara Deering.

To better accommodate the twin mission of teaching music and providing musical goods, she has moved Deering Music from Winslow Way to a house on 255 Ericksen Avenue, two doors north of the driveway into BPA.

“I don’t want it to feel like a big retail store,” Deering said. “I want it to be more homey.”

That it is. Located in one of the old cottages on lower Ericksen, the new store puts the multiplicity of rooms to good use.

The “living room” up front offers a few CDs, a substantial selection of written music – songbooks, scores and sheet music, and “things that people need all the time,” like strings, straps, whistles and so forth.

The hallway leads to three separate rooms – one for rock ‘n’ roll guitars and drums, one for acoustic instruments and a third for band instruments. Each of those rooms can also be used as lesson rooms by the lineup of teachers on her roster.

A room at the back is, among other things, Deering’s own piano studio, where she will teach.

“The old store was never big enough to teach in – I always had to go home,” she said.

In addition to offering twice the space inside, the new spot has a substantial yard in the back. Deering plans to put that space to use as well.

“It’s a safe back yard where kids can play while they’re waiting to be picked up,” she said.

Once the moving boxes have been cleared away, the back porch can be used for musical presentations. Eventually, she hopes to build a gazebo and offer concerts in the yard.

“This is off the busy street, where we can be of more service to the community,” Deering said. “This is how I always wanted it to feel.”

The move, which occurred piecemeal throughout August, had an element of fate to it.

“I had been looking for someplace like this for some time,” Deering said. “Then this came up, and it turned out that the house was owned by people I know well. And it was someplace I could afford.”

While she acknowledges that the move off of Winslow Way decreases her visibility, Deering believes the business is well enough established to tolerate that change.

“There’s a wonderful network of people on Bainbridge Island talking to each other,” she said. “Once people find out I’ve moved, they’ll be here,” she said.

A music maker

Deering’s is not a store for those who only want to listen to music – the few CDs they have are instructional. Rather, it’s a store for those who want to make music.

“When I was a child, hanging out in music stores was my favorite thing to do,” she said. “Music is what kept me together when I was young.”

She split her childhood between Chicago and the Smoky Mountains of North Carolina, absorbing parts of two rich musical traditions. Then in the late 1960s, she took a two-year school holiday and toured Europe as lead vocalist and rhythm guitarist for an English rock band called Gringo.

“We had a contract with Island Records, and recorded in the same studio as the Beatles and the Rolling Stones,” she said. “I actually opened for Ozzy Osbourne, which gets my students’ attention.”

After coming back to the states and finishing college as a drama major with a music minor, she found herself in Florida, playing with a small jazz combo. Marriage to a military man took her back to North Carolina, where she raised her children and became involved in gospel music.

After divorce and an illness, Deering moved to Bainbridge Island 10 years ago to be closer to family and began teaching, something she could do while she was convalescing. The store began modestly in 1994, in Lynwood Center, as an offshoot of that teaching.

“Everybody had to go off-island for supplies, and that ended up being a project for students and parents, so I ended up going,” she said.

Deering also saw a need on the island for access to what she calls “common music.”

“There was a lot of classical instruction,” she said, “but not a lot for people who just want to play the piano well enough to play Christmas carols.”

So he assembled a group of qualified instructors into a music school, which found a ready market. Within three years, the school had 30 teachers and 300 students.

Family tragedy intervened when one of her children had a very serious automobile accident, forcing Deering to interrupt her personal involvement with the business. She didn’t get back to working full-time until last summer.

While many of the teachers have gone on to form the Bainbridge Island Music Teachers Guild, Deering still offers instructors in a number of instruments, as well as her own teaching.

Lessons have always subsidized the store, but she hopes that the retail operation will become profitable enough to allow the teaching to taper off.

Her principal concern is to provide a musical hub for the Bainbridge community, where, she said, no music store besides hers has lasted for more than four years.

Measured by in the accomplishments of her students, Deering considers her business a success. One long-time student is now playing at Seattle’s Jazz Alley. Another, Andy Crane, who worked at the store for several years, was recently admitted to the Berklee School of Music in Boston.

“I’m sure he will be a famous jazz musician one day, and I will have had a part in that,” she said. “That’s my legacy.”

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