Music Men

Cleveland natives John Carden and Jim Ross keep Heights Guitars alive.

There's a ratty elegance to old music shops. Before people were lured to suburban mega-stores, they gathered at neighborhood spots with weathered carpet, cramped showrooms and row after row of beautiful, often unusual, guitars.

Walking into Heights Guitars today is still a lot like that. But until recently, the future of the East Side landmark had been uncertain. Store founder Greg Stiles died last February after a brief bout with aggressive pancreatic cancer. After that, the shop fell into a state of limbo as Stiles' widow, Nina, considered what to do next.

John Carden and Jim Ross, native Clevelanders and business partners who operate a Toledo music store called Vintage City, came out to meet with Nina last spring.

"She made it clear that she wanted to sell and would prefer that someone carry on the tradition," Ross recalls. "And after finding out Greg was a retired school teacher and this was his dream store, we thought it would be great to continue his dream."

So, in late October, a slightly different Heights Guitars opened its doors. Where Stiles' store had a bluegrass bent, Carden and Ross have a rock 'n' roll approach. The store has also widened its inventory to include drums and keyboards.

But the most vital component of the new store is the one that has made Vintage City a success in the face of national-chain competitors. Heights Guitars will focus on buying and selling used and vintage instruments. Carden says he's found that the approach, which leads to a constantly changing inventory, keeps people coming back.

"We always try to purchase," Carden says. "We have a lot of regulars in Toledo who visit every day just to see what's come in."

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Guitar Picks

3 other independent shops to check out

WestGate Music Center
Lessons, repairs, starter guitars — this versatile little store is the place for all of it.
23820 Center Ridge Road, Westlake, 440-835-0555,
Prospect Music
A Cleveland fixture since 1941, this stocked shop is downtown's only music store.
818 Huron Road East, Cleveland, 216-621-5409,
Royalton Music Center
This family-owned store carries Fender guitars and offers lessons on all orchestra instruments.
6552 Royalton Road, North Royalton, 440-237-9400,
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