SOUTH BEND – News that more than 100 jobs will leave the area when Woodwind & Brasswind closes its doors at the end of the year means another vacant building for the city. But the man who owns that building says if his plans work out, it won't be empty for very long.
Labor of Love
Dennis Bamber has always loved music.
“My original thought was to be a professional saxophone player,” he said. “I made a couple of records back then – not CDs – so I started a little boutique business called The Woodwind in 1978 and it grew rapidly. So the tail started wagging the dog and I quit playing eventually.”
His mail order music company grew into a very successful international business. In 1999, it moved into its current location on Technology Drive and opened a huge store, selling instruments to local schools and musicians. But the company filed for bankruptcy in 2006.
“I brought in a couple partners and it didn't work out. There was a major lawsuit that went against us and forced the sale of the company and that was the main issue,” he said.
A year later, Guitar Center bought it. But Bamber was never able to sell the building. He worked for Guitar Center for a year during his non-compete – an agreement that he would not open a competing music company. Then, in 2009, he started Music Factory direct at a warehouse on 12th Street in Mishawaka, doing something very similar to Woodwind & Brasswind but on a smaller scale.
“We sell musical instruments predominantly on the internet as well as to schools,” said Bamber. “It’s a little different model than Woodwind & Brasswind, we sell a lot more proprietary imported products and we sell on multiple channels like eBay, Amazon, Buy.com, as well as our own website.”
Wednesday’s news that the building he owns will soon be empty didn’t come as a surprise since Bamber is still the landlord. In fact, the entrepreneur’s wheels are once again turning. He’s considering moving back in as soon as Woodwind & Brasswind moves out when their Guitar Center’s lease expires in February.
“We have a concept for the retail store where it wouldn't just be music. It would be six to eight different companies utilizing that large retail space. For example, we would have some toys in there, some musical instruments, we're talking to a home furnishing person who has unique, original designs of home furnishing goods and we're talking to a few other people, a potential bike shop going in there.”
If his plans come to fruition and Bamber is able to move back into the Woodwind & Brasswind building, he says it could add up to 30 additional jobs to the 10 he already has with his Music Factory Direct business.
Coming & Going
Both St. Joseph County and South Bend city leaders told WSBT the news of Woodwind & Brasswind leaving the area wasn’t surprising. Phil D’Amico from the St. Joseph County Chamber of Commerce said he’s heard rumblings for months that the company might leave.
Though it might seem as though a lot of businesses are leaving St. Joseph County, we found out several others are actually choosing to stay put and grow.
Woodwind & Brasswind has been a hub for both local and international musicians for three decades.
“It’s kind of sad [to see it close],” said long-time customer Mike Antonelli. “They’ve been here for a long time.”
But when the company closes its doors for the final time later this year, it will force long-time customers to change their tune.
“The guys know what they're doing in there and they'll be missed,” added Antonelli.
The Assistant Director of South Bend’s Economic Development says the news didn’t come unexpectedly for his office.
“We’ve known this was probably going to happen for some time, ever since Guitar Center bought out Woodwind & Brasswind back in 2007.”
The announcement from the instrument company comes on the heels of two other huge companies leaving the area. AJ Wright put 700 people out of work when it closed in February. Robert Bosch Corporation is closing at the end of the year, meaning 250 more jobs lost and more vacant buildings.
Schalliol said the city is doing all it can to attract new businesses to those buildings, and several outside companies have toured them. But he admits they’re difficult to fill.
“It’s kind of a plus-minus [situation,] Schalliol said. “While we lose some [companies], we’re gaining others.”
Some local companies are getting huge tax abatements from the city to stay and grow.
McCormick on Lathrop Street recently added 10 new positions and plans to hire another 14 people by next year. Shafer Gear on Nimtz Parkway hired 15 new people this year and will add 12 more when a new building on the property is finished. Hoosier Tank, located on N. Sheridan Street, is adding 20,000 square feet onto its factory, bringing 15 new jobs by the first part of 2012.