Resting in the Claremont Village’s lively neighborhood is a quaint store whose walls are lined with dozens of diverse instruments.
Although seemingly quiet from the outside, visitors are greeted with tunes coming from the employees’ playing and exotic looking masks complimenting the instruments.
“My parents started this store and there were so many people who were interested in folk music and the instruments that it got overwhelming for the house so they started a little tiny store that grew,” Ellen Chase Harper, store manager, said.
Founded in 1958 by Charles Chase and Dorothy Chase, the Folk Music Center moved three times within Claremont as its increasing popularity demanded more space.
Although the store began in the back room of an office, it has since moved to another location in Claremont before settling residence in 220 Yale Ave.
Ben Harper, the Grammy Award winning musician and grandson to the Folk Music Center’s founders, purchased the store to keep it within the family.
“It’s a unique place to work,” said Evan Smith, sales representative. “I love music and working here. I’m always learning something about music since I’m surrounded by people who I can learn from,” he said.
Jerry O’Sullivan, sales representative, agrees the store is unique.
“There are musicians who have performed here at our store who have traveled all over the world and seen a lot of places that are usually blown away by this place and they feel it is pretty unique as well,” O’Sullivan said.
The store sells kid-friendly instruments such as kazoos, tambourines and maracas, and CDs from artists such as Ben Harper, Lucinda Williams and Lisa Loeb.
Aside from being a store, the Folk Music Center is a recognized museum by the state of California because of it’s collection of instruments ranging from sitars to African drums to mandolins.
“It’s really kind of unlike any other music store I’ve been to,” Smith said.
“It has one of the best collections of musical instruments from around the world that exist outside of a couple of other museums,” he said.
The store offers services such as instrument repairs, open mic nights and the yearly Claremont Folk Festival.
“It’s a great resource and community center,” O’Sullivan said. “People can come in here and just hang out and talk.”
The Claremont Folk Festival is set to be on May 31 in the Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden.
“We’re both nonprofit organizations so it’s not a huge festival. It’s small but it’s wonderful,” Harper said.
“We’ve had David Lindley, Henry Rollins and Janet Klein perform. We have really interesting acts coming to play and this year will be different and very good,” she said.
While the festival features known artists, the store offers newcomers the chance to perform at their monthly open mic nights.
Employees encourage all ages and styles of music to participate in the event.
Held on the last Sunday of the month, the performances are recorded then made into a DVD where it can be bought in the store.
“I would find this place very hard to describe,” Smith said. “You can’t really describe it, you kind of have to experience it.”
“Our sort of mission is if you can’t pick it up and try it out, how are you going to know if you will like it,” Harper said.
The Folk Music Center is open Tuesdays to Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
For more information visit folkmusiccenter.com.
Karla Rendon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.