Organization has provided a music community to the city for five years
For the people who work and visit there, walking into South Bend Music and Drum Company is like coming home.
A comfy couch sits in its center, flanked on all sides by walls covered with custom guitars and ukuleles. This is where staff and customers alike sometimes spend hours, just hanging out to learn about music and soak up the lounge-like atmosphere.
Sitting on that very couch on a Friday afternoon, some of the company’s staff struggled to come up with a single reason that made their little shop so special, each joking and talking over each other, sharing stories in the comfortable way only people who know each other well can do.
“I guess what it comes down to is that we are like a family here,” says vocal instructor Linsay Kelly, sharing a laugh with her coworkers as she pulls a shawl over her shoulders. “We treat everyone that comes through here that way. … We respect the music and each other.”
South Bend Music and Drum Company, formerly South Bend Music Exchange, has served the city for five years as a professional music shop, selling, buying and trading handcrafted guitars, instruments and musical necessities, and offering repairs and services. The store also allows instructors like Linsay to use the space for music lessons.
The store’s owners say South Bend Music is a local alternative to large national chain music stores, such as Guitar Center.
“There was nothing like this is in South Bend, and it needed to be done,” says owner Mike Janovic, 48, of why he opened South Bend Music. “You get exactly what you need here at a fair price. A lot of local artists are struggling, so we help out a lot and do what we can. The people that come in here, we kind of become friends.”
Located at 626 S. Portage Ave., the shop sits on a corner in one of South Bend’s most diverse neighborhoods, which the store’s staff says helped make the business what it is today: a community for musicians and artists.
Mike says the culture of South Bend is in everything the music store does, down to the building itself, built in 1880s as one of South Bend’s first grocery stores, which Mike renovated and revived.
“There is a pretty big music community in the area,” he says. “There are a lot of working musicians and there is a high demand for live music. You gotta support the musicians. They need to have a place to support them and give them what they need. Even since we have been here, the arts have grown.”
South Bend Music does a number of things throughout the year to support South Bend’s music community, including giving away guitars and drum sets to city youth each year. Mike believes that supporting the arts is important to keeping South Bend’s culture vibrant and forward-thinking.
“The arts are the heart of the city — always will be,” he says. “Dull things don’t define the city, and arts are huge. If it’s painting or music or whatever, it’s all part of the same flavor of the community.”
The instructors that work for South Bend Music say they have seen the impact the store has had on the city’s music community even in their own lives.
For Linsay, a 42-year-old former nurse, the business allowed her to teach vocals full-time, something she had always wanted to do.
“I’ve known for a long time that there really wasn’t anything else for me [other than music],” she says. “I think it’s important to have [South Bend Music] here to let others explore music and maybe realize what I realized, that music was it for me.”
Drum instructor Dani Graf, 26, has been working at South Bend Music since she moved to South Bend a year ago. She says that working at the shop has allowed her to meet people and get connected to the community in a way she would not have otherwise.
“It’s harder and harder to find a little shop like this that is totally run by local people, who are really chill,” she says. “I love seeing all my students, who are of all ages, grow. It’s just really cool to see and get to be a part of.”
Neil Carmichael, 37, who teaches guitar, bass, piano, music theory and composition, has been with South Bend Music since near the beginning. He says he has seen the community embrace the shop and how it offers a place for musicians in South Bend that did not exist before.
“This place is important because there is a cross section of people who are musicians and people who support local everything, from food to music,” Neil says. “When musicians come here, they are supporting their own tribe, and that’s really cool.”
Staring down a line of shining, polished electric guitars, Mike jokes that even though he does not have a crystal ball to predict the future, he does have hopes for where he wants the store to go moving forward. Primarily he has two goals: to see South Bend Music continue to be successful and embraced by the city, and to see the local music community thrive.
“Like I said, music and the arts are so important to a community. I never want to see that die,” he says. “We don’t do this to get rich. We do this because we love music. … We treat people like family and a community, and we are always hoping to add new members to the family.”
Photos by Emily Sobecki