Arbutus Music was founded by it’s current owner, Richard Leighton in 1996 when he decided to move back home to Nanaimo from Vancouver. His company in Vancouver was called Guitars West and was a small retail outlet and repair shop sharing a space and apprenticing with master luthier Eiichi Ishikawa at Shuriya Guitarcraft since 1985. Many famous musicians, collectors and companies shipped guitars from all over the world for us to repair or restore.
The Guitars West name was changed to Arbutus Music when the move was made to be less guitar specific. We opened on Dover Road in a small 600 square foot shop with 2 lesson rooms. The business grew on our service, vintage collectables, and our knowledge. Richard continued to commute to Vancouver to work on guitars and to work in the recording studio for many producers and bands. After 3 years we opened a piano store in the same mall and continued to grow and by 2001 we were bursting at the seams and decided to build our current building on Metral Drive.
After another 5 years we were approached by Long and McQuade who were interested in renting our space and taking over our products, students and customers. Richard became their manager and ran the store until the L&M Calgary manager wanted to move to the coast and so Richard stepped aside and continued to do tech work for them for a another couple of years. Long and McQuade’s lease came up and they did not want to re-sign. Customers had been contacting Richard at home asking him to re-open as they had missed the old store and its way of doing business. He had been quietly recording, repairing, writing and playing with his young son at home but decided he missed the store as well and decided to reopen.
On return there was a massive rebuilding of clientelle that had to happen. The very thriving music lessons had all but disappeared. The student load had dropped to less than a fifth of what is used to be and the morale of the teachers was low. We decided to concentrate our energy on rebuilding the Music School and now are back up to our previous numbers and still growing! We have added a classroom area and computer lab to teach all aspects of music, recording and the music business. We take advantage of the lab to teach kids basic programming skills for animation, game design and more. The lab is also used for teaching people how to optimize their home computer skills focusing on Apple based programs, however the workstations are also able to boot in a Windows environment. Then there was the retail part of Arbutus Music to consider.
When we were deciding on products for the store side, we specifically looked at products and brands the big stores don’t carry and hard to get products and instruments. Our model is to try to look after 100% of the group of the people who can’t get what they need from a big chain store. However, we do match prices and sometimes are even cheaper on some of the same products and accessories the Box Stores carry.
Now with over 30 years in all aspects of the music retail, recording, repairing and instruction, Richard is continuing to give Nanaimo the very best service and products he and his staff can.