A.J. screws on the neck of a guitar at his work bench in Bay State Vintage Guitars on November 22. Credit: Alastair Pike.
Studio 52 is a community artist space located in the heart of Allston, and is proud to support the Boston music scene and local artist community.
Aaron “A.J.” Jones doesn’t remember the first time he walked into Bay State Vintage Guitars. He remembers it was definitely before he “caught the rock and roll bug” in his teens and that he was too young to remember. Nearly 40 years ago, in 1981, his father, Craig, opened the shop at a tight enclave on the third floor of 295 Huntington Ave. in Boston as a guitar store — the vintage part came with time.
“The first time I got a thousand bucks for used Fender strat I thought the world had gone crazy,” Craig says.
It wasn’t until around 2008 that Craig tapped his son A.J. — as he is called by clients and friends — to take over the shop. A.J had helped his father throughout the years, but he said he always had other jobs until then.
Bit by bit and project by project, A.J. says he started picking up on his father’s trove of guitar knowledge: Restoring 50-year-old guitars that had been worn and torn to a basket case of an instrument; rebuilding 45-year-old amplifiers that had been modified to a ghost of what they once were. “It’s pretty great,” he says. “You get to see some really special, really special instruments come through.”
Business was booming.
But then the shop’s life got turned upside down: The long-time owner of the building, the New England Conservatory, sold the building to a private company in March 2016, according to emails NEC sent out to tenants. Late in October 2017, A.J. and Craig were among the building’s stores notified they had to move out by December 1 — a notice that had been looming for months. The new owner plans to build a condo, A.J. says.
“It’s like, OK, what are we supposed to do,” he adds. “There is not really anything comparable to what we have here available anywhere in the city.”
The guitar shop’s location atop the city’s Avenue of the Arts was prime. The New England Conservatory was across the street, in sight from the shop’s windows. The Berklee College of Music was a couple of blocks away. Symphony Hall at the end of the next block. The Boston University Theatre was across the street and halfway one block east.
Article continues after the gallery. All photos by Alastair Pike.
Swipe or use your ← → (arrow) keys
Nonetheless, it’s no secret that Boston’s real estate market has recently gathered multi-pronged momentum. The average cost of office space rent in 2015 was $32.53 per square foot, according to a Boston Globe story from July 2015 -- a 12-month increase of 7.6 percent, at the time. With such rent prices, A.J. says he is not sure he will be able to find an affordable space in the city. Let alone in the same area.
“Ideally, we wouldn’t like to relocate,” he tells us in the days before the shop closed for good. “Right here is just fine... this is a great spot for music and for musicians and it’s been that way for a really long time.”
Mark White, a guitar professor at Berklee and Bay State customer, said the store’s move will not only physically displace the store and its guitars, but it will also displace Craig and A.J.’s knowledge of vintage instruments.
The original 1960 Fender Telecaster White says he bought in 1986 planted the seed for his relationship with Craig and, ever since, he said he has counted on Craig for a lot of instruments.
“Craig is probably one of the most knowledgeable guys of American guitars left on the planet,” White says. “Craig really knows the details -- the small things that nobody else would know. It is incredible.”
Bay State Vintage Guitars is hardly alone in being booted from the building. Music Espresso, a music sheet store, is moving to a new spot within the area. Violin maker Paul Wiessmeyer is temporarily moving into a friend’s shop in the neighborhood.
Jodi Solomon, president of Jodi Solomon Speakers Bureau, writes to Vanyaland that her speakers store moved into the building in April 1994. After more than two decades there, Solomon is moving to an office space she said says is leasing through a friend.
“That so many small businesses were now without a home is a sad commentary on Boston and the lack of support small businesses receive,” Solomon writes in an e-mail.
In correspondence with Wiessmeyer, the violin maker was blunt: “The situation is analogous to clear cutting a forest with complete disregard for the various forms of life and biodiversity to achieve, what I believe in the bigger picture are, short sighted goals. Trees can always be replanted but the biodiversity can not be regenerated as quickly.”
“It’s the big money running rough shot over the little guy," says A.J. Jones. "The little guy who made a point to become a part of the community."
On top of city-esque rents, competition isn’t light either -- Guitar Center opened its Massachusetts Avenue location, a walking distance away, in 2012. Jonathan Moretz, the owner of a local guitar shop and real estate company, and a friend of one of the business owners in 295 Huntington Ave., says the all-things-music store’s opening killed a number of small music stores, such as the ones that were in the building.
“I think that was much more disruptive,” he adds.
Nonetheless, Moretz said he speculates rent was not too bad at 295 Huntington Ave. and now the shops have to deal with the reality that is modern-day, big-city real estate.
“I’m sure that it going to be a problem depending on whether these people just pack up and retire,” Moretz says.
Since moving out, A.J. and Craig Jones have yet to find new quarters to set up shop. They put their amps, guitars and tools in storage, and as of press time, A.J. says he’s been looking for a place to call home. In the meanwhile, they've been working out of his own house.
A.J. may not remember the first time he walked into the store, but on one of the last days at Bay State Vintage Guitars on Huntington Avenue, he looked at what was left of the shop. A wall not too long ago adorned by Fenders and Gibsons -- older than the shop itself -- only had the hooks hinting at its past life. A basket of amplifier tubes in a corner were once used for resurrecting amps. The table were A.J. learned from his father and repaired a number of instruments was being stripped of its tools.
“It’s the big money running rough shot over the little guy," AJ resigns. "The little guy who made a point to become a part of the community."