Louisville Magazine

MAR 2012

Louisville Magazine is Louisville's city magazine, covering Louisville people, lifestyles, politics, sports, restaurants, entertainment and homes. Includes a monthly calendar of events.

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somewhat subjective. Te older models from the famous makers clearly qualify because of their inherent quality and fi- nite supply. "It's been a long time since they made guitars in 1945, 1955 or 1965," Cooley says dryly. But there's also an emo- tional side, Brown says, because people tend to identify with their musical heroes. So if Taylor Swift suddenly began playing a garden-variety Sears guitar from the 1940s, prices would spike. Vintage is a smaller part of the Empo- rium's mix than it once was — prices are down about 30 percent since the economic collapse of 2008, which has killed some speculators, and many of the rock stars and baby boomers who were buying them years ago have their collections filled out. Brown has long sold a wide range of products, starter kits included, found in most music stores. And though guitar stores can seem like museums, he engenders a welcoming envi- ronment. Part of that, Brown says, is due to the store's shotgun layout, which pre- cludes any sort of velvet-rope approach. Te guitars hang freely on the walls, acous- tic on one side and electric on the other, and visitors are encouraged to pick them up and play. Tat's led to a few scratches and dings, which the store has to eat, but Brown thinks the trade-off is worth it. Te Kentucky Headhunters' Martin, who makes a few guitar deals a year with Brown, says the seller is known as a straight shooter. "If he says it's a good guitar or a good price, that's the way it is," Martin says. "He has an innate feel for it. I heard someone say years ago that when you buy a guitar from Jimmy, he makes you feel good about it." As Brown nears his 40th year in busi- ness, the elephant in the room concerns his succession plan. He is a bit of a Steve Jobs figure, but he believes his staffers are more than capable of keeping the store going if he decides to sell. Whether that day is fast approaching is up for speculation, but what seems cer- tain, regardless, is that Brown has pulled off something unusual and significant. He has made a living from loving guitars. Te longhaired hippie who made good grades but got ostracized from the National Hon- or Society can claim the last laugh. "It is really challenging to run a small business," he says. "Tere are days I want to close the doors and say I'm going back to cutting grass in the neighborhood. But I do love it. I could have made a lot more money doing something else, but I'm still one of the wealthiest men in town, because this has been fantastic." Q 3.12 LOUISVILLE MAGAZINE [39] www.hatsforhopelouisville.org

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