Through its doors walked famous rock artists along with the kids who admired them and wanted to learn an instrument, as well as local musicians in need of a guitar fix or new drum kit.
After 35 years, those doors are closing.
Music Lab, located on Burnham Avenue in Lansing, is ending a run that began in 1978.
Blame the economy and changing demographics for the music institution’s demise.
“We went from having a couple hundred students a week down to about a hundred,” co-owner Nick Kutzko said. “At one time we had a waiting list for students. Parents are having trouble affording lessons.”
The store’s sound and lighting company took a hit as well, as many of the festivals it serviced have shut down or scaled down due to economic reasons, Kutzko said.
“A lot of others have bands using their own PAs,” he said.
That part of the business is being handed off to someone reliable, Kutzko said, “so the people who have counted on us will still be taken care of.”
Music Lab’s original partners were Ken Anderson, Tom Barnhart, Bruce Bolen and Rick Richards.
Bolen eventually sold his share to Barnhart's brother, Neal Barnhart, who died in 2006. His wife, Linda Barnhart, now co-owns Music Lab with Kutzko, who was hired at age 15 when the store opened.
“I think my first official job here was helping move a piano,” he said. “I just turned 50 and for the last 35 years I have not had a real job. How many people make it to 50 and can say they made a living but never had a real job?”
Kutzko said he’s seen generations of customers come through the store, including friends who were 15 when they first opened and are now bringing in grandkids for lessons.
“People are heartbroken,” Kutzko said. “I’ve made a lot of friends over the years.”
Among Kutzko’s fondest memories of the store were the clinics it hosted featuring musicians like Joe Satriani, Nancy Wilson and Howard Leese, of Heart; Mark Tremonti, of Creed; Steve Morse, of the Dixie Dregs and Deep Purple; and Dave Amato, of REO Speedwagon.
“We fixed his amplifier when they played at the World Theater,” Kutzko said.
Musicians who stepped foot in the store also included Gary Pihl, of Boston, and Anton Fig, of The Late Show with David Letterman band.
Kutzko also recalled doing the sound for “hundreds of bands” including The Beach Boys, America, Travis Tritt and Eddie Money.
Kutzko will continue as co-owner of Conquest Sound in Monee. He said friends could contact him there if they need a guitar repair.
“I’m more than happy to still do it,” he said. “If they’re looking for gear and I can’t help them I’ll steer them in the right direction. ... I’ll make sure my friends are taken care of.”
Music Lab is in the process of liquidating its inventory.
“We don’t have a whole lot left,” Kutzko said. “It’s probably going to be another two weeks.”