by Lauren Bala
As the local music scene expands, so does access to musicians’ tools of the trade.
Independently owned Rainbow Music in downtown State College recently expanded to an ambitious degree, merging with previous competitor Alley Cat Music and relocating to 140 N. Atherton St., the former location of Best Event Rentals.
The ground floor of the 10,000-square-foot store features lower-end electric guitars, sheet music for a variety of instruments, drum heads and a work station for instrument repairs and string changing. There is an amp room, an effects room, an acoustic guitar room and a high-end acoustic guitar room.
On the second level, which sits atop a narrow set of stairs—the second to last of which reads, “Two steps from heaven”—is a showroom full of electric guitars, including ESP, Fender, G&L, Epiphone, Ibanez, Paul Reed Smith and Danelectro, to name a few. ESP has recognized Rainbow as a premier dealer for its guitars on the East Coast, due to the store’s expansive selection.
The second floor also includes amps so potential buyers can try out the guitars before making an investment—a luxury most other music stores either lack or limit.
Competition isn’t something General Manager Vince Youngbauer is concerned about, he said, since the upgrade itself cut down on competing local businesses through the merger agreement between friends Mark Ross, owner of Alley Cat, and Bill Beard, owner of Rainbow.
“Bill and Mark had been discussing it for years, so when Bill found out the lease at the old store was ending, he asked Mark if he wanted to merge, and Mark went for it,” Youngbauer said.
The newer, bigger facility has proven to be more customer-friendly, with more room to explore and try out the instruments.
“In the old store, people were afraid to walk through the aisles because they might knock something over,” Youngbauer said.
Customers seem to agree that the bigger store is an exciting upgrade.
“I spent a lot of time at the old Rainbow, so I was skeptical of the new store at first,” said regular customer and Penn State student Ben Hutton. “But when I walked into the new place for the first time, it was awesome. When I first saw the room on the second floor with all the guitars, it warmed my heart.”
Rainbow employs people are who dedicated to and knowledgeable about the products, and doesn’t reward salespeople through commission, which Youngbauer said adds to their credibility.
“Since we aren’t getting paid to sell a product, we can really focus on the customer’s needs rather than on profit,” he said.
That’s something Mike Clark, who’s been a local music customer for five years, hasn’t experienced with other area stores.
“I tried to return some speakers once at another store in town, and when I went in, the owner told me to stop wasting the clerk’s time and to move out of the way to let people who were actually buying something ahead of me,” Clark said. “I started going to Rainbow exclusively after that. Since they have some of the most talented musicians in the area working for them, they understand the needs of musicians and are much better with trades, returns and just purchases. I was excited when they expanded. The selection is great.”
Employee Gary Owen is the resident product specialist, or “gear geek,” as Youngbauer put it. His genuine excitement about products means that his knowledge is thorough and not limited to the gear featured at Rainbow. Owen is happy to direct a customer to other stores that offer the desired product.
Rainbow isn’t for every musician. It doesn’t offer much in the way of marching band instruments or obscure Middle Eastern instruments. But chances are, those interested in most stringed and percussion instruments, or the related accessories, won’t have to be directed anywhere else.
“We wanted to make this a destination store,” Youngbauer said. “This means that people will travel to State College to visit us. A lot of our products are exclusive or regional. Just today, a man called from New Jersey looking for a specific guitar and drove here to pick it up.”
While professionals can take advantage of the selection, beginners may find the instruction manuals helpful or be interested in signing up for guitar lessons offered by employees.