Rainbow Music finds a new home in Bellefonte
Rainbow Music owner Bill Beard recently reopened the Bellefonte store after more than 20 years at State College. Photo of Geoff Rushton | StateCollege.com
When Rainbow Music closed its store at 140 N. Atherton St. in State College after losing its lease in late 2019, owner Bill Beard expected it to be a temporary hiatus of a few months until find a new location.
“My goal was to liquidate as much as possible knowing the future was uncertain,” Beard said. “My plan was to get out of there, put everything away, then go find another place, renovate and maybe be out of service for a month or two.”
In the early months of 2020, however, COVID-19 hit and, unsure when it might open, Beard saw no sense in renting another location immediately.
Its short hiatus turned out to be a little longer than expected, but two years later the longtime Center County store specializing in guitars, gear and accessories is back with a new home in another borough.
Rainbow Music opened in late spring at 1 Perry Lane in Bellefonte (behind the Waffle Shop and next to the Spring Street municipal car park), giving the county seat its only dedicated music store.
Beard acquired the building – which is best known to locals as the longtime former home of Nastase Beer Distributor – last summer, then undertook renovations and waited until the weather was good enough to move safely. security of sensitive products such as guitars and amps.
Although little is visible from the exterior of the brick building, inside Beard created an inviting space, where he installed a purpose-built HVAC system for an instrument store. Upon entering, patrons will find a front room with amps and keyboards, then a bright space with electric guitars lining the walls and small merchandise everywhere. Sliding doors open to a side room that used to be the beer cooler and is now lined with acoustic guitars, including a wall with vintage Martin guitars.
“Basically it’s an insulated box which is really good for the acoustics and also if we ever got into a situation where the heat went down the instruments could be moved in there, the sliding glass doors closed and basically sealed” , Beard says to convert the cooler into a showroom.
It’s both a fresh start and a return to form for Beard, who got his start locally managing State College’s former George’s House of Music in the 1990s. opening Rainbow Music on West College Avenue.
When the owner of this building sold it, he moved in 2008 to the North Atherton Street building, acquired by Penn State two years earlier. The university, he said, was looking for short-term tenants in hopes that it would eventually use the property and others nearby for its own purposes.
Beard’s original lease was for five years and he didn’t expect it to last longer. But it was extended year after year until 2019, when Penn State finally notified Rainbow Music and tenants of other nearby college buildings that their the leases would not be renewed.
“Having 12 years out of the building was beyond what they told me upfront to expect from my time there,” Beard said.
After moving the slatted walls and display cases into storage and the instruments and amps into his home, Beard worked on setting up e-commerce for Rainbow Music. As he searched for a new physical location, staying at State College became less likely.
Over the years, changes in the economy and the Internet have meant that in-store sales have not been what they used to be. At the same time, State College’s downtown development has driven up rental rates and made smaller spaces on the outskirts of town the only realistic option in the Central region, he said.
“The whole high-rent landscape really limits the type of business you can run,” Beard said.
At State College, Rainbow Music had high visibility and a business model that relied on the college’s foot traffic. In Bellefonte, it’s a little different.
He thinks his long-time customers will have no problem getting to the new Bellefonte location, so he is focusing on community outreach.
“I don’t have the driving exposure,” Beard said. “I hope the parking lot attracts some visuals. Obviously the building is well signed now. For me, it’s really trying to get the community to appreciate the fact that they now have a music store.
Most of the instruments Beard has on sale right now are in use as he works to restore business relationships with manufacturers and, more importantly, to wait out the supply chain and production issues that have made the news harder-to-acquire guitars for retailers after a boom. sales at the start of the pandemic.
“Maybe I’ll focus more on the use of things, but the problem with strictly second-hand selling is that you’re at the mercy of what anyone is willing to sell you. So I’m hoping to find a happy balance here over time,” he said. “Right now I’d rather have more guitars than I have right now. I think I have more than most small shops at some point, even when they’re not trying to build.”
Beard said he wanted to “be known as the guitar guy” among music stores. (You might not be able to buy or rent a saxophone from Rainbow Music, but you can still find small items like reeds and ligatures.)
With a focus on guitars, his goal is to help customers find the right one for them.
“I really want to understand why people care about me,” he said. “Why do you want to play an instrument? What will inspire you? How can we move you in a forward direction. My whole attitude about buying and selling is you want a kid in first and ooh and ah. Then you want him to get his first guitar. Then you want it to get down to it and continually improve your selection of instruments over its lifetime. A toolbox is one thing; it’s another thing to have truly special instruments that inspire. I’m a big fan of quality over quantity.
“To me, why try to sell a 12-year-old a $500 guitar? Unless his parents have played around and realized he’s more inclined to stick with it. That’s what parents always want to know: how do you know if they’ll even stick with it? The problem is, if you’re in that situation, you can get something that’s so cheap it’s unplayable, so they won’t stick with it. It’s my job to find the right instrument for the right person at the right skill level.
He also says he places a lot of emphasis on the buy-sell-trade aspect of the business, which also includes buying and selling vintage coins, to give fair value and help customers get what they are looking for. And it will also help negotiate a sale.
“What often happens is grandpa bought this guitar, then dad got it later in life, someone died and no one in the family plays,” Beard said. “They need to have an outlet for it rather than just trying to figure it out on the internet. Whether I’m negotiating a deal or buying an instrument from someone, it’s good to know there’s someone in the area who can handle this beyond the norm.
At this time, store hours vary and can be found daily, along with inventory, at rainbowmusic.com, as well as the company’s Facebook and Instagram accounts.
Beard said he looked forward to building the store using the revenue to increase inventory.
“From the outside it doesn’t look like much, but I’ve been to enough music stores to know that it kind of worked for what it is,” he said. “…At the end of the day, we want it to be a destination location within a radius of at least 50 miles.”