ADDRESS: 137 SW 3rd Street, Corvallis, OR 97333
PHONE NUMBER: 541-754-6098
OWNER: Travis Oefelein
YEARS IN BUSINESS: 29
NUMBER OF EMPLOYEES: 20
WHAT THEY SELL: Musical instruments, rentals, repairs, sheet music, and accessories
WHY YOU SHOULD GO: Friendly local business with expertise to serve families, educators, and the musician in all of us.
Travis Oefelein understands first-hand what it means to grow a business. As the son of the founder of Gracewinds Music, Travis witnessed the development of the business from an idea to a start-up to an enterprise that has grown along with the communities it serves. Now, as the owner of Gracewinds, Travis is justifiably proud of the wide range of products and services his business provides, bringing the gift of music to countless people in the Mid-Willamette Valley.
Travis, when and why did Gracewinds get started? When I was a child, my dad was a Montessori teacher, and he wanted to start something that would make music a bigger part of our lives. So he opened a band instrument repair shop in our garage in South Corvallis in 1985. My brother had just been born, and I was seven years old. My dad got a $4,000 loan from his mom, and he would go up and down the coast, buying instruments from pawn shops. He would fix them up and make them available for sale or rent.
After my mom went back to school and got a bachelor’s degree, she decided to go into business with my dad. That’s when we moved the store downtown, since there was a need for a music store in Corvallis. That was around 1990. The store was on 2nd Street, on the south half of where Grass Roots Books is now. Grass Roots occupied the north half, and New Morning Bakery had been in the space that we moved into. Gracewinds continued as an instrument repair shop, doing band instrument rental and sales. Gradually, we started carrying acoustic guitars and some ethnic instruments. After four or five years, we moved from 2nd Street to a different location on 3rd Street, where Quilt Work Patches is now. It was double the space, so we started selling electric guitars, digital keyboards, and other electronic equipment. It also had two lesson rooms.
After another four or five years, in 2002, we moved to our present location, which had been the site of Anderson’s Sporting Goods. The store has a 5,000 square foot footprint and, if we include the basement, ground floor and top levels, it’s 18,000 square feet. Even before we moved here, my parents were starting to think about retirement. I was eager to grow the business, so we started selling acoustic pianos and greatly expanded in all areas of the store, including brand names that people really wanted.
Tell us more about your products and services. We’re a full-line musical products store with one of the most comprehensive repair facilities in the state. We have a professional band instrument repair department, and we also do guitars, some electronic instruments, and orchestral string repair. The top level of our store is the Lesson Loft, which includes a large recital and workshop area, and eight teaching rooms.
We carry a good breadth and depth of products in most categories so we can give customers what they want. We’ve been selling a lot on eBay and Amazon. That represents about 2/3 of our sales. Selling on-line allows us to be price competitive on the retail floor. In addition to providing the products that most customers are looking for at on-line prices, we offer service and advice from our professional musician staff.
What does being featured as the Local Business of the Week mean to you? It means we’re appreciated and recognized as a part of Corvallis. It’s nice to be able to share our family’s experience of being in this community.
What sets your business apart from other music stores? Our store, unlike all the other instrument stores in the area, has a strong focus on band instrument rental and sales. We work with area middle schools, high schools, colleges, and universities. We have a broad range of repair, sales, rentals, and expertise.
What challenges have you faced as an independent local business owner, and how have you met those challenges? Over the last several years, the perception is changing about people buying things. Much has gone on line. It’s become very convenient to click “buy” on-line. Consumer on-line buying has really skyrocketed. Everyone’s looking on-line. The way we’ve approached that is by making sure our prices are competitive with other on-line products, making sure our repair coverage is extended, having professional musicians on staff helping people find just the right gear, having the products right here and now, and participating in local music and arts in the form of monetary or instrument donations.
What do you feel is the impact of local independent businesses on Corvallis, and what does the future look like for local independents? Independent businesses are a large part of the Corvallis culture, especially our Downtown and its rich diversity of local businesses. In terms of the future, if we focus on the services and products that can’t be found on-line, and we create a better value through business and community collaboration, embracing and adapting to the changing behaviors of consumers, then we can retain the culture of Corvallis and keep it an enjoyable place to live.
What do you enjoy most about owning a local, independent business in Corvallis? I like the sense of community and community identity – and the much closer direct connection with customers that big business cannot and does not have.
What is your relationship to the community? Gracewinds donates to schools’ music and arts programs in our area – between Eugene and Salem and east and west. We give to charities by providing products for fundraisers and auctions, and we offer sound system rental and equipment, and we also make financial donations. We are part of CIBA, DCA, and the Chamber, and we participate in the events they sponsor. I was involved with CIBA when it first started, and I’ve been on the board of directors of Fall Festival for the past seven years. My dad has been a part of a lot of volunteer activities in the community.
How important is sustainability to you and your business? Most of our waste gets recycled – mostly paper and cardboard. We try to reuse as much packaging and boxes as we can. We’ve worked with Energy Trust to install LED lighting. Most of our spotlights are LED, and we’ve done it much sooner than the average business. We’re looking into switching our fluorescents to LEDs. Almost every trash can in the store has a recycle bin next to it. In our repair shop, we go toward lead-free solder. We’ve invested in environmentally-friendly equipment, including a sonic cleaning machine for brass instruments that’s worth $12,000. We use it instead of an acid-based cleaning solution. It’s similar to what jewelers use, but much bigger!
(Interview and article by Annette Mills – February 23, 2014)
The Local Business of the Week program is designed to help the Corvallis community identify our locally-owned independent businesses by featuring one business each week. The program is part of the Buy Local First campaign co-sponsored by the Corvallis Sustainability Coalition and the Corvallis Independent Business Alliance.