Cousins Working in Harmony Maintain Instruments at Coles Music Shop
Expert instrument technician Ed Coles and cousin Ed Houghton bring their new shop to West Deptford, offering a range of services for musicians young and old.
Good instrument repair shops are few and far between, but a high-end repair shop that offers instrument customization, rentals and new and used instruments for sale is one of a kind. Lo and behold, Coles Music Shop is open and ready for walk-ins.
The brand-new shop is located in the Sherwood Shopping Center and still has that freshly painted smell. Business owner and former West Deptford board of education member Ed Houghton said the crew just began to move everything in last week.
“We were planning to do this in two years and in two weeks the opportunity presented itself,” said Houghton.
Only by chance, did Houghton learn of the soon-to-be vacant property, after striking up a conversation with the owner of Hallmark Cards and Gifts—that now sits next door to the shop. After learning the Hallmark store planned to cut its space in half, Houghton jumped on the opportunity to move his newly purchased business into the vacancy.
Coles Music Shop is named after Houghton’s cousin, Ed Coles, who works alongside his son in the shop on instrument repairs and customization and has 35 years of instrument repair experience under his belt.
Yet, long before Coles ever had a storefront, he ran his instrument repair shop out of his father’s garage, alongside of his own father.
Outgrowing the garage
Graduating from instrument repair school in 1981, Coles then went on to work for Regional Music in Millville for 18 years. When the owner of the company decided to retire, Coles went into business with his father. With their garage forever expanding with the growth of their business, additions were made to accommodate the volume of work.
“It just rapidly grew from there,” said Coles.
But the long hours that accompanied running a business and working as main technician grew tiring for Coles—frankly, the business side of the shop was just not for him, Coles admits. After being approached by his cousin, Coles says he and Houghton hammered out all the details of the business in just four hours. Houghton and his daughter would handle the business side of the shop and Coles and his son would work on repairs, so that he could devote his entire day to the instruments, instead of dividing his time like before.
During that time, the two also talked about expanding into rentals as well.
With a separate warehouse off-site, Houghton says the shop will soon have over 1,000 available instruments to rent. Rentals include everything from wind to brass, with the exception of pianos and guitars—joking that a piano is just too large for their shop, but perhaps one day.
While school instrument repairs make up a large portion of their shop, Coles says their venture is much more than that. Due to his level of expertise, the shop can follow musicians from their beginnings in elementary school music, all the way up to college and beyond—something most shops are just not capable of doing.
In addition to repairs, the store can also customize instruments, such as adding a fifth valve to a four-valve tuba.
While Coles can repair an array of instruments, his area of expertise lies in the saxophone. However, working in the industry for as long as he has, Coles knows experts who specialize in almost every kind of instrument. He'll refer you, if needed.
In addition to networking with other professionals in his field, Coles has also gathered a prestigious list of clientele. Names such as Denis Di Blasio, Bryan Appleby-Wineberg, George Rabbi, Christopher Farr and Anthony Salicandro all frequent the shop.
“I think we’ve become one of the top shops in the tri-state area,” said Coles.
More than just a mom and pop shop
While the shop services instruments all the way from Willingboro to Cape May, customers have been known to travel from New York, Massachusetts and Florida—simply because they refuse to go to anyone other than Coles.
With a fully functional workshop, a lathe to machine their own parts and a 70 gallon ultrasonic instrument cleaner—which can fit a full size tuba and then some—the shop now houses approximately 150 instruments in need of repair at any given time.
It’s not just the shop's ability to perform high-end repairs and customization that sets them apart, Coles says; it's customer service. Many times parents need rentals for their children, but have no background in music and feel overwhelmed. While most shops may try to push the parent off with an instrument, Coles says the staff at their shop is always sure to walk the parent through the process helping them understand the instrument, how it works, what is most suitable for the child and what will be expected of the child by instructors.
“It’s a mom and pop shop, but it’s more than that,” says Coles. “It’s a place you can walk into and everyone knows your name.”
Coles is also not afraid to share his wealth of knowledge on instruments and repairs. He frequently visits schools and universities, demonstrating simple instrument repairs to instructors.