image | Raven Campbell
When asked how Russell’s Music World, his 850-square foot store hidden behind Cogan’s Pizza, can compete against today’s online marketplace, he said: “I have friends that buy their guitar strings from Amazon. I’m not going to ask them to not buy strings from Amazon for 2 cents more than I buy them for. … The other 98 percent of the people like to go to the music store. They want to see what’s hanging on the wall. Some of them want to hobnob and talk to me, look at the bulletin board, see what’s up, see other musicians.
“You can buy stuff anywhere,” he continued, “but this is an experience unto itself.”
The experience started in 2007.
That’s when Scarborough decided that 30 years working for someone else in the music retail industry was enough, so he quit. He enjoyed a couple months off before taking a job managing a small restaurant with an option to buy. It didn’t take long, though, for the light bulb to come on over his head. “If I’m going to spend money,” he told himself, “I might as well do something that I’m good at and love.”
In less than a month, he got a business license, leased a storefront, bought inventory and opened the door to Russell’s Music World. “That was right at beginning of the recession,” he said. “I didn’t know that, of course, but I muddled through, and here I am.”
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Although Scarborough’s specialty is drums, his store caters to all musicians. “It’s all supply and demand,” he said. “If I lived on just drums, I wouldn’t be here. That’s why it’s Russell’s Music World and not Russell’s Drum World. … I stock and sell gobs of cymbals, but guitar strings keep the lights on. So it’s a perfect balance.”
His customer base includes fellow musicians, many of whom know him from the Russell Scarborough Trio and other local bands, including the Michael Clark Band; music students at nearby Maury High School and Blair Middle School; and amateur musicians from Ghent and beyond.
“I’m a Norfolk guy,” Scarborough said. “I don’t want to drive to Virginia Beach for a pair of drumsticks. A guitarist doesn’t want to drive to Virginia Beach for a set of $6 guitar strings. And Norfolk simply didn’t have anything—especially this part of Norfolk.”
In addition to being the “go to guy” for musical sundries, he’s made a name for himself as “the” consignment shop for used and vintage instruments. “If you want to sell your Hondo Les Paul copy and don’t want to talk to knuckleheads on Craigslist or ship it to a guy in Nebraska, bring it to me and I’ll do all that for you,” he said. Scarborough doesn’t pay a percentage on consignment sales. “I guarantee them a net price,” he explained. “If your guitar is worth $100, I will get you $100, whether I sell it for $5,000 or $101. … It works well for me and the customers.
He also stocks a few “boutique” items, including Kohlman basses, made by Chris Kohlman in Newport News, and Smiletone pedals, made by Mark Smilor in Virginia Beach. “Both of these guys are known online, but I am their physical store and the first store for both of them,” he said.
image | Russell Scarborough
Scarborough may not compete with online retailers, but social media plays a big role in the store’s success. “Oh, I live on Facebook,” he said when asked about the merchandise photos he posts almost every day. “Sometimes it’s very effective. I got in a nice Fender Stratocaster with no historical claims—no 1957 mojo. I put it on Facebook at 5 o’clock and sold it the next morning at 10 o’clock. One person saw it and knew he wanted it from seeing it on Facebook. So yeah, Facebook is good.”
Another transaction brought Scarborough national acclaim. In 2011, he sold a rare Ludwig snare drum to Patrick Carney of the Black Keys. “Yeah,” he said. “The Black Keys have a snare from my store. It’s rather cool.”
Kevin Kriner has been a loyal customer since he bought his first set of drumsticks in the late ’70s, when Scarborough was working at Audio, Light & Music on Military Highway. “I immediately liked and respected him and have been buying drums, drum supplies, sound equipment and much more ever since,” Kriner said. “I like his store for many reasons. It’s close, always has some nifty, one-of-a-kind vintage gear, I like to support the small business, and most importantly, I like to hang out and talk music with Russ.”
Russell’s Music World is located at 504 Washington Park in Norfolk—behind Cogan’s Pizza on Colonial Avenue. For more information, call 757-622-5568 or visit the Russell’s Music World Facebook page. For Buy One, Get One Half Price on all Strings, click here.
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