A half-century of Quimper Sound

By Charlie Bermant
Posted 12/20/23



The arrival of compact discs and digital media has repeatedly characterized vinyl records as a "dead art form,” but it thrives in Port Townsend.

Quimper Sound, once …

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A half-century of Quimper Sound




The arrival of compact discs and digital media has repeatedly characterized vinyl records as a "dead art form,” but it thrives in Port Townsend.

Quimper Sound, once a tiny record store that evolved into a first-rate guitar emporium, celebrates its 50th anniversary Feb. 1.  

“We are a 20th-century lifestyle technology shop,” said James Schultz, who has owned the business since 2018. “We are a historical product company, a place that holds onto this history and allows you to take it home and own a part of it.”

Schultz is planning a celebration, accompanied by a store redesign that balances the guitar/vinyl inventory into a one-stop shop reflecting a music enthusiast’s wildest fantasies.

The most visible change will be the melding of the record and guitar businesses, which up until recently had different names and different web pages. The Guitar Store, Schultz’ old business, will disappear and Quimper Sound will become one entity with two different departments.

The big news is a new partnership with Gibson Guitars, which battles Fender for first place in the U.S. guitar market. Schultz plans to install a separate wall on the right end of the retail space, behind which a selection of rare and interesting Gibsons will reside. It will also house a retail presence for the company’s custom guitar shop, where a customer can design an instrument with their own neck, pickup, and body shape specifications.

The 2400-square-foot store hosts approximately 35,000 records and 300 guitars, ranging in value from $85 to $40,000. There are three retail employees; guitar store manager Alex Ben-Barak, Marshall Gooch and Juniper Dunlap.

Quimper Sound’s guitar expansion reflects a trend. The Music Trades Association estimated $1.8 billion in guitar sales in 2024.

Quimper Sound was opened in 1974 by Ron McElroy and his wife Lynne. He sold it about six years later to an employee, Steve Wilmart, who then sold it to Mark Hering a few years later.  

Along with ownership changes, the store was part of Port Townsend’s downtown retail shuffle. It opened in the vintage building now occupied by the Belmont Hotel, soon moving a few doors down to the corner of  Water Street and Taylor Street, the current site of Northwest Man. Next was a move to Taylor Street, now Caldwell Banker, and then to a smaller location in Undertown.

According to McElroy, that location was more appealing than in previous years, where it “became more like the hippie record store it was in the beginning.”

Hering attempted to sell the business for several years with no successful results until 2018, when Schultz, who had shopped in the store as a teenager, dropped in. Hering had a few offers from Seattle record stores, who sought to buy the inventory and close the store.

That option offended Schultz, who found it unacceptable to not have a record store in Port Townsend.

Schultz visited the store one day, at which time Hering expressed a desire to sell. The next day Schultz paid another visit.

“I told him ‘I came in here yesterday to buy records. Why don’t I just buy them all?’” Schultz recalls. “I gave him the price he asked and we moved it to this location. Mark stayed on to work with me for a year and a half.”

Hering was unavailable for comment. Schultz said, “He repatriated to Mexico.”

Schultz, 53, was born in Eugene, Oregon, which he called "a great small town to be a wild kid.” He picked up the guitar and started playing in punk bands as a teenager, then moved to Seattle where he worked as a guitar tech and a bouncer. One day he visited Emerald City Guitars where he discovered the owner was an old friend. An offer to cover the shop while the owner took a break led to a full-time job.

He moved to Port Townsend in 2000 - during which time he shopped at Quimper Sound—and back to Seattle in 2006. He got married (to hairstylist Heidi Minnich, who now owns the Polk Street Salon around the corner from Quimper Sound), eventually opening the original Guitar Store on the somewhat seedy North Aurora Avenue.

“Opening a semi-luxury store on North Aurora in Seattle in the middle of the recession was insane,” he acknowledges.

But the business grew. He partnered with Paul Reed Smith, a Maryland-based guitar craftsman whose product is a significant part of Quimper Sound’s inventory.

Schultz said that Quimper Sound is one of Paul Reed Smith’s top 10 independent retailers, characterizing the brand as one of the top guitar makers in the U.S.

“Gibson and Fender battle it out for first place, but PRS is number three,” he said.

The store does not represent Fender, as that company has financial conditions that the store was unable to meet, according to Schultz. Still, there are a few used Fenders on the guitar wall.

Schultz still plays guitar, but “not as much as I should.” He has a large room in his house where he plays guitar with his dogs as an audience. He has a collection of instruments including several Japanese Fender Telecasters. How many guitars? “There’s always room for one more.”

 While guitars take much of his recent attention, Schultz stresses that vinyl records are the most significant part of its business. The store’s Facebook page states that it pays the best price for used records. They buy pretty much everything. Condition is a factor. If a record is scratched or the cover excessively torn it will end up in the $1 bin. They are most looking for jazz from the 1950s and 1960s, rock from the 1960s, metal, punk, hip-hop and vintage country.

The store’s online vinyl option is limited, on purpose.

“It takes about as much time to pack and ship a record as it does a guitar. By the time we do that we've lost money,” Schultz said. “I would rather have people have that experience of tangibly physically coming through and putting their face and fingers and digging through the record crates.”

Schultz recently moved his guitar shipping component from Bainbridge Island to Port Townsend.

“We sell guitars for the same price as (mail order giant) Sweetwater,” he said. “And here, you can pick it up in your hands and take it home.”

Quimper Sound celebrates the “old days,” that are not so long ago.

“We’re this Victorian seaport, a little town that's built on the water in crumbling brick buildings that strangely houses a number of bookstores, book publishing clinics, in-person music events and a typewriter shop,” Schultz said. “I don’t know of any other towns with that much commitment to the physical media of the 20th century.”

Despite a rough few years, courtesy of the pandemic, Schultz is optimistic about the future.

 “We're moving forward and going ahead,” he said. “I think that we are going to continue to do a tremendous amount of business. As long as humans don't screw it up.”

Original owner McElroy, who is now a KPTZ DJ, is still emotionally invested in the store.

“It’s amazing that the store has sustained for so long,” he said. “We are still so proud of the business.” For its 50th, he has toyed with inviting Neil Young for a performance, as Young visited the store several times in the 1980s.

“I don’t have his address,” he said. “But I could probably find it.”