Washington Music Centre, like virtually all businesses, has been impacted by the coronavirus. But the pandemic has not been an instrument of torture for the Washington store.
“The economic impact hasn’t been an issue,” said Joe Reihner, who owns the center with his wife, Sonya.
He said the store was closed from mid-March, at the beginning of Gov. Tom Wolf’s statewide shutdown order for non-essential businesses, to early September. Part of that time was devoted to quarantining with their elderly parents.
Funding from the federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, Reihner said, “has been a huge help.” PUA benefits are available to self-employed, independent contractors, gig workers and others who are not eligible for regular unemployment compensation, but are unemployed or partially unemployed because of the pandemic.
“We wouldn’t have made it through without that,” he said. “We had some money set aside, but not enough to last five months. We would have made more (money) being open for business during that time, but (the benefits) paid the bills and kept us afloat.”
The result is a verse-case scenario – instead of a worst-case scenario – for Washington Music Centre. The facility, at 801 W. Chestnut St., is open again for music lessons, sales of instruments and accessories and repairs. Ken Weiss founded the business in 1958 and Reihner took it over about two decades ago.
There has been a medley of challenges since the September reopening, Reihner admitted in an interview last week. “We had a big rush at first, which was nice,” he said. The store, however, has had difficulties getting stock from suppliers, an issue that is ongoing.
Student numbers have fallen from a peak of about 60 a year ago to around 30 now, which is why Reihner said hours at the store are “heavily reduced.” It is open for two hours on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. (Times vary according to student and instructor.)
Most students, he added, are grade-schoolers through high-schoolers, although “we have some retirees who finally got some time to learn to play the guitar or bass.”
The owners also have imposed a five-person limit inside, thanks to COVID-19. “We try to keep foot flow at a minimum,” Reihner said.
Joe and Sonya give lessons along with visiting instructors. Joe Reihner specializes in string instruments – guitar, violin, banjo, bass, mandolin and, on rare occasions, the harp. Sonya teaches flute, which pre- and post-pandemic are best conducted in soundproof rooms in the back of the building.
Those rooms, however, are smallish, not what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advocates nowadays. Soundproof spaces, Joe said, “are an issue for woodwind and brass. Flute lessons are difficult there.”
Sonya improvises, teaching from a large, open room in front of the lesson rooms. So may an instructor who is just coming on board. Bagpipes are his specialty, and he has two students lined up.
“I’ve been here for 20 years and this is the first time I’ve had bagpipes,” Joe said, laughing.
Despite obstacles, Washington Music Centre’s owners are still in tune with the community, still generating sweet sounds and optimistic for what may be ahead – even if the future means soundproofing the entire place to accommodate bagpipes.