A historic building in Downtown Tucson — whose empty windows span nearly a block of empty storefronts — still boldly presents its bright yellow lettering to Congress street.
This vacant space held the oldest music store in the city. However, just around the corner the Chicago Music Store’s downtown location now lies in a much smaller storefront.
The Chicago Music Store is a local staple that, according to its website, has been around since 1919, celebrating 101 years of existence.
The store’s main function of serving the community, namely schools, through instrument sales, rentals and lessons has allowed it to survive through four downtown locations and a few others around town.
Currently, the store has two locations.
Store owner Mark Levkowitz is the third-generation owner of the family business, originally founded by his grandmother, Clara Levkowitz, who named the store in honor of her hometown of Chicago. Once simply called the Chicago Store, the store gradually evolved from selling “everything under the sun” to becoming the established music store it is today, according to the store’s website.
The store moved from its most iconic location on 130 E. Congress St. in February of 2016, where it had been since 1967. According to Mark Levkowitz, that location and other closed locations were abandoned because of a “lack of business.”
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“We could fill it, but it was just way too big for us, more space than we needed,” Levkowitz said.
The current store is narrow, with soft and clear light filling the space. Instruments line every wall. Andres Pastor, a local guitar player and songwriter, began working at the music store after casually helping to rent out instruments.
According to Pastor, music is almost always playing in the store. At times, the sound is not just coming from the speakers. Customers testing out instruments permeates the room with the sound of music.
In essence, Levkowitz sees the store’s existence as a way to “help people enjoy music.”
The consensus among employees is that the community is what makes the store great.
Chicago Music Store employee Moses Gonzales, a local guitarist and songwriter, mentioned that he and his coworkers try to get to know their customers and make relationships more than “just getting down to business.”
As Gonzales put it, salespeople often pressure customers into buying merchandise just to make the sale, but employees at the Chicago Music Store try to avoid that attitude.
According to Evan Suares, an employee, everyone is dedicated to “making sure [customers] have a fun experience.”
Suares said the store focuses on helping people by maintaining a broad knowledge of the instruments they take care of and sharing that with their customers rather than treating interactions purely as business. Being a source of knowledge and expertise as well as a storefront is key.
The store especially seeks to share musical knowledge with students. To that end, Levkowitz stressed the importance of music education in schools, referencing studies that show kids who play music tend to get better grades and improve a number of skills, including social skills.
In fact, the store’s status as a music emporium began with music education, way back when Levkowitz’s uncle joined the high school band.
“A lot of the band parents started asking my grandmother to procure musical instruments for them,” Levkowitz said.
The store began to specialize in musical instruments and moved away from a general goods focus. Over time, this led to increased work with students through rentals and lessons, making support for music education one of the store’s main concerns throughout its lifetime.
Support like that of the Chicago Music Store seems to have paid off, according to Levkowitz.
“I think right now music education is strong in the state,” Levkowitz said.
The history of the Chicago Music Store is a testament to how interwoven it has become with the Tucson community. Businesses come and go like seasons — especially in Downtown Tucson — but the culture of the store has remained uniquely Tucsonan for the past 101 years.
The downtown location sits beneath a bright red awning on 45 S. Sixth Ave. You can’t miss it. The east side store can be found at 5646 E. Speedway Blvd.
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