Jim Tooher and Debbie Biglin were not always small business owners: Tooher once was a computer technician with IBM who repaired key punch machines, and Biglin was a substitute music teacher in a public school district.
But in 1986, the pair of friends bought a long-standing business then called Heywood's Music, and re-introduced it to the community as Three Village Music Shoppe.
Surviving through rough spots when the economy dips or the competition rises, the business is now entering its 27th year. The biggest change, Tooher said, has been the internet.
"People buying things online ... has become so prevalent that it’s cut into the retail end of our business," he said.
Biglin agreed, but said the competition can't always compete. "I think that people still long for the personal attention that we give here," she said.
While people do like to hold musical instruments in their hands before making a purchase, that's not what is hurting the business the most. "Sheet music and books, even though they have to pay shipping on them, that’s the biggest end of it," Tooher said.
That's where the other parts of their business come in: In addition to selling instruments and sheet music, Three Village Music Shoppe also offers music lessons and instrument repairs. The 2,700-square-foot store features four music studios and a full repair shop in addition to the retail space. The shop employs eight part-time music teachers who offer lessons in vocal technique and nearly every instrument commonly found in orchestras and bands; about 60 to 80 students take lessons there each week. Their business to a degree relies on the local school districts' music programs: the store rents approximately 600 instruments per year and sells the sheet music that students and teachers often use in the classrooms.
Tooher teaches some lessons and does all the repairs.
"I’d say it took me five years till I was perfectly set on instruments and I said I could fix everything," he said. "I did have to learn to play several instruments to be able to test them out. ... I really enjoy doing repairs."
Biglin teaches piano, violin and voice lessons, and also places orders for sheet music.
"I do love what I do...it's well worth it," she said, adding that the business has developed friendships over the years with both the teachers at the studio and the folks who come in as regular customers. "You can’t really say in a lot of jobs that you have friends at work, but I do have friends among the teachers that teach here and among the teachers that come in to buy their music."
Tooher, a 14-year resident of Medford, wasn't always a musician: he said he wasn't exposed to music much as a young man and only learned to play guitar when in college. But Biglin, a resident of Calverton, began her musical training at age 10 and was influenced by her grandmother Edith Rain, a professional violinist.
Tooher and Biglin said they feel fortunate to be able to have a business with such longevity.
"When you start a business you never know what’s going to happen," Tooher said. "Twenty-seven years later, it’s been a very enjoyable, rewarding experience."