One string leads to another
“The best part of my job is coming in at nine o’clock in the morning and turning on the lights,” says Scott Burns, the owner of Centre Stage.
For Burns, Centre Stage brings him right back to his childhood.
"My parents bought me my first guitar from Centre Stage the first year it opened in 1987,” he says. "And I took lessons from Centre Stage right up until the time that I went to Musicians Institute and it so happened the year I came back from Musicians Institute, one of the instructors… left – didn’t want to teach anymore. So the guys at Centre Stage, who I knew very well, contacted me and asked if I wanted to have a teaching gig."
That was the first time Burns had ever taught music (though he had been taught how to teach at the Musicians Institute he attended in Los Angeles). Over the next 20 years he continued to move his way up the ladder to become head instructor and branched out into public schools. To this day, he still teaches at St. Lawrence College and at Centre Stage in between running the place.
Back when he was attending school in Los Angeles, he said he wasn’t exactly sure where he would end up career-wise. He really wasn’t much for being centre stage (pun intended) and didn’t want the lifestyle of a traveling musician.
“Even though I moved to L.A., I moved directly back to Kingston. I was always kind of a homebody. I didn’t want to necessarily travel the world in a touring band,” he says.
He discovered he had a knack for teaching and "really (enjoys) the passing on of knowledge,” which he tries to incorporate in the store setting.
He says another focus is creating a social experience as opposed to a good sale.
“Retail has a certain stigma about it that, you know, we’re all salesman and we’re trying to make a sale. And certainly, I want to make a living and I want to be able to keep Centre Stage going forward, but every time you come in the store, there’s no pressure from us to buy something. It’s an experience. And I think that’s maybe something people don’t really get about Centre Stage. It’s not just about a purchase, it’s an experience,” he says.
Burns says he bought out the original owner of Centre Stage two years ago when he was about ready to retire and the changing music retail industry was posing a problem with Centre Stage’s advancement. (i.e. technology, on-line marketing, social media and on-line stores.)
“I didn’t want it to become a memory,” Burns says about Centre Stage.
Though he had spent the last 20 years doing nothing but instructing, so taking on ownership of a business was a whole new ordeal for Burns.
“(It was) a challenge to see if I would be able do it, and to put Centre Stage back sort of on the map and be a relevant player in this new music industry."
So far, so good though, he says. The only part he still struggles with is stock management.
"Trying to maintain interesting pieces, unique pieces, not taking any one department for granted because… that 50 cent pick is just as important as the $6000 Martin."
He says he also wants people to know that Centre Stage’s workers are also members of the music community here in Kingston. For example, Burns is a guitar player in local band The Stares, which plays regularly in Kingston pubs.
“I’m not just somebody here that doesn’t play and is sitting back just as a salesperson… These aren’t appliances. It’s not just stuff. It’s much deeper than that."