When Greg Stiles, owner of Heights Guitar in Cleveland Heights, died unexpectedly of pancreatic cancer in February, it seemed the locally owned boutique music store didn’t have much chance of surviving him.
Over 20 years in business, the affable, shaggy-haired, 60-year-old School of the Arts science teacher had developed a following with his staff of musicians and on-site repair technicians, and high-end stringed instruments. And when the owners of Toledo’s Vintage Guitars came up over the summer to look at the store’s stock with an eye to purchasing it for their own shop, Heights’ Guitars’ days appeared numbered.
But ultimately, Vintage Guitars owners John Carden and Jim Ross decided to buy the place and keep it open. It’s been quietly back in business since October, and celebrated a “grand opening” Thanksgiving weekend. They’ve installed a Toledo employee Sam Wandtke as district manager and Darrell Branch, a friend of Stiles’, as store manager. Eric Erdman continues as repair technician; John Kalman, bassist for Founding Fathers and Roue, is a recent hire, continuing the store’s tradition of musician/employees. Wandtke herself is a musician, whose former band Bullet Teeth played at the Beachland with Roue a few years ago.
“We’re going to keep the stuff Greg started,” says Wandtke. “We’re just expanding. A lot of people in rock bands thought of this as a folkie/bluegrassy store. You’d look in and see a lot of mandolins. We’re adding keyboards and drums. We still have the high-end stuff, but we have entry-level stuff too.”
Wandtke is already eying the space next door, formerly occupied by Kalliope Stage, the musical theater ensemble that folded three years ago. He's hoping to use the still-in-place stage to host in-store concerts. — Anastasia Pantsios