The Return of the Drum Shop
It’s been nearly 20 years since Chicago has had a full-on drum shop to call its own. But the recent star-studded opening of the massive new downtown retailer Vic’s Drum Shop means that the shopping habits of area drummers and percussion fanatics just got a lot more interesting. Built on a lifetime of experience in the industry on the part of owner Victor Salazar and featuring a unique relationship with rehearsal space company Music Garage, the new store is full of innovative twists and turns.
“I’m doing 18-hour days here until we get everything running,” says Salazar over the phone from his shop. “I don’t have a problem with that. My name’s on the door and I take pride in that and everything we’re doing.”
Salazar and his crew (all percussionists) worked around the clock up to and beyond the Drum Shop’s opening. By the looks of it, the work is paying off. The store boasts a variety of carefully designed independent rooms for auditioning new gear. “In most stores, there’s one big room,” says Salazar. “If you have someone auditioning a snare drum in one corner of the room and someone’s playing a cymbal in another area and someone’s hitting a drum set and someone’s playing congas and the TV is on and the phone’s ringing – what you have is sonic mayhem and it becomes very difficult to discern what it is that you’re listening to.”
At Vic’s Drum Shop, there are two cymbal rooms, a snare drum room, a general percussion room, an electronic drum room, a drum kit showroom, a stick room, and a drum head room. At the time of opening, the store housed 800 models of sticks, over 1,500 cymbals, currently 120 snare drums, and over 100 drum sets in stock.
“It’s pretty staggering,” says Salazar.
Expert employees roam the store to help customers and all use a POS system that Salazar says was influenced by his love for Apple stores – the Apple iPod Touch checkout system, which enables employees to scan products across the store and process payment on the spot. No one has to wait in line at a cashier.
The shop’s location, in the midst of Chicago’s North Loop warehouse district and housed as part of the 65,000 square foot Music Garage complex (the original Music Garage is in Brooklyn), is another advantage. The complex has about 120 practices spaces, each with a band and, Salazar reasons, at least one drummer. “That’s 120 automatic customers!” he says. Not only is Vic’s the most convenient place for a whole building’s worth of musicians to stop by for extra sticks and new equipment, but he’s also able to send members of his service department directly to rehearsal spaces for repairs.
“It’s like I’m in a hotel where you call downstairs to the main desk for room service,” he says.
Salazar has worked in the Chicago area all of his life, combining passions for playing drums and percussion (he’s been an active musician for 36 years) and a dedicated retail experience. He made his name in the drum world while working for 16 years as the manager at the well-known Drum Pad in nearby Palatine, Ill., where he would organize clinics and in-store appearances by drumming stars from every genre.
“You don’t necessarily make a lot of money doing drum clinics – or maybe any at all all,” he says. “But it’s certainly a great way to get people interested in drums and drumming, inspire and educate them, and make them focused on your store and the products that the artists are playing at the clinic. It doesn’t pay off immediately, but if you look at it in the long-term sense, you can see the benefit of hosting them.”
His reputation quickly grew as a reliable, respectful manager to work with, and it soon seemed as if he knew everybody in the business.
But it was his experience in retail that formed the foundation for his success. Salazar sincerely credits his time spent managing the men’s designer sportswear department in the downtown Chicago Marshall Fields store for honing his sales chops.
“Selling men’s designer sportswear is somewhat similar to selling drums and percussion – especially high-end drums and percussion – in that both are not considered necessities,” he says. “You really don’t need a pair of $600 Giorgio Armani trousers and maybe you don’t necessarily need to spend $400 on a pair of hi-hats. You have to sort of romance both products and point out what makes them unique and special in a way that you can make it appealing and irresistible for the consumer.
“Coming from a boutique background, I try and keep that attitude regardless of if you’re selling something expensive or inexpensive. The level of service you provide should always be first rate.”
Carrying new skill sets from job to job – from his time in fashion through his time as a musicians’ ringleader at the Drum Pad – has paid off, evident in the level and quantity of marquee names on hand for Vic’s Drum Shop’s grand opening last October. The store held what amounted to a drum summit to celebrate their opening, with reps from all over the industry and famed drummers like Terry Bozio, Gavin Harrison, Johnathan Mover, Nathan Townsley, Derek Roddy, Todd Sucherman, William Calhoun, Mike Portnoy, Jimmy Chamberlain, and more.
In the rush to get everything ready, Salazar says he couldn’t have asked for greater company, and he often got more than he bargained for, with several musicians taking extra time to mill around all day long helping to sell equipment. Metal drummer Jimmy DeGrasso, known for his work with Alice Cooper, Megadeth, and Suicidal Tendancies among others, even showed up a bit early and tuned 100 snare drums in the show room.
“Jimmy owns a drum shop in San Jose and understands the business,” says Salazar. “When he got here, he said, ‘Put me to work!’” Reps were just as agreeable, often stepping over each other to help set up displays and drummer demo stations, regardless of what brand equipment they happened to be carrying.
Salazar points to a long, storied history of musicians and music shops in Chicago as an inspiration for staying in his hometown so long and for making sure to find a place downtown. He points to legendary Chi-town drummers like Gene Krupa and Danny Sheraton as classic examples of the city’s percussive spirit and notes industry benchmark companies like Ludwig and Slingerland as having deep roots in the city. But he also gives a nod to drum shops of the past – Frank’s Drum Shop and Bill Crowden’s Drums Limited – that faded away and have left a significant hole in the city’s drum community.
“Both of those stores used to be on Wabash, not too far from where I am right now,” he says. “When they ceased to exist around 1993, there became this huge void in the city of Chicago. So I thought it was long overdue, given the history of this town, the size of this town, the number of drummers in this town – it was incredibly important to me to be right in the city.”
With that in mind, Chicago area drummers have something to be excited about. For the rest of the country, don’t worry – Salazar has plans to eventually expand, though he may need a rest after a few months of non-stop building on this shop.
“I want to be the best,” he says. “Sometimes to be the best, you have to put in a lot of time and effort. But I’m not doing this to be a multi-millionaire. I’m doing it to fill a void in the city of Chicago and to help out the drummers in this community.”