Awash in posters featuring such local indie music luminaries as Dan Deacon, Wye Oak and Ed Schrader’s Music Beat, Brothers Music is music nerd heaven.
But Ian Goldstein, co-owner of the independent music store with his brother, Brian, is quick to point out that their shop at 2112 N. Charles St. in the Old Goucher section of Baltimore attracts a vast cross-section of patrons.
“We get all types in here, from kids to the scene musicians,” he says. “What I wanted this store to be was like a community.”
Brothers Music — which sells guitars, bass guitars, amps, synthesizers and accessories — opened in June of 2015 at its location near the Johns Hopkins University Homewood campus, Charles Village and the Station North Arts and Entertainment District. Open seven days a week and billing itself as Charm City’s only new and used guitar store, Brothers Music was named one of the nation’s 60 best music stores by clickitticket.com and Best Music Store by Baltimore City Paper in 2016.
While operating the store, Ian works as a public health lobbyist in Washington, D.C., while Brian is a teacher. The siblings work at the shop on weekends, and employees Amber Shoshana and Nicky Smith hold down the fort on weekdays.
Ian Goldstein’s roots in Baltimore’s music scene go way back. He was the lead singer and guitarist of the Towson alternative rock band Evolve from the late 1990s to 2007.
“It was more competitive then and it wasn’t so much like a family as it is now,” he says of the local music scene.
The Goldstein brothers, who grew up in Columbia, want their store to offer a welcoming, personalized atmosphere to local musicians and be a stark contrast to the rather impersonal corporate music stores out there.
“I feel like Guitar Center is just a really sterile environment,” says Ian. “There’s a bunch of slat wall and everything is white or gray. You can’t just touch stuff. If you touch anything, somebody’s going to come up to you and be like, ‘Can I help you? What can I help you with? Let me try this for you,’ and stand over your shoulder and make you feel like you can’t play.”
Brothers Music, on the other hand, is happy to have visitors play the instruments, whether they intend to buy or not.
Still, competing against corporate music conglomerates in today’s economic climate isn’t easy. After Brothers was praised by City Paper, the Goldsteins put out a plea to area musicians via their website to support the store.
“To be honest … we were having a really difficult time and weren’t sure we wanted to continue,” Ian admits. “The community always supports us, but we’re also a depressed economic community so we really have to find that balancing act of buying expensive inventory or stocking items that we know are in our customers’ price range.”
Though “some months are harder than others,” he says the store has managed to stay afloat, thanks to reasonable rent, low overhead and devoted customers.
Offering $5 group guitar lessons, organizing annual food and clothing drives and hosting political meet-and-greets are just some of the ways Brothers contributes to the surrounding neighborhood.
“I’m a political person by nature,” says Ian. “I know that everything starts at a local level in our communities. That was the whole point of the store. The community needed a shop that was a staple. Because the store is not my or my brother’s main source of income, we’re able to do things like food and coat drives and give away free packs of strings. We want our neighborhood to improve.”
Though the Goldsteins strongly recommend visiting the store as opposed to purchasing musical equipment online, Brothers also sells new and used equipment through Reverb, an online marketplace for musicians.
Asa Kurland, a Brothers’ customer, praises the Goldsteins and their shop.
“Brothers is a great store,” says Kurland, a vocalist and guitarist for the Baltimore-based band Slow Lights. “They offer a wide variety of musical equipment that performers need on a regular basis. They have great industry knowledge and helpful, welcoming service.”
Though he’s gratified by Brothers’ loyal customer base, Ian says he and Brian have “absolutely” no plans to expand. “I would have a breakdown,” he says. “We just want to keep rockin’ and rollin’ along in our little Old Goucher shop.”
Matt Ellin is a Baltimore-based freelance writer.