“Is that the actual key?” Eric Denton says with obvious delight. “And it still works?” It does. “We should raise the price,” he says, only half joking about the $99 price tagged onto an old white car door. “That’s off the tour van from when I was in the band Peter Rabbit. Some drunk totaled it.” Meanwhile, all around Denton, customers walk sale-priced merchandise out the front door of his Guitar Trader. The once-thriving music store is being gutted. It all began Monday, December 8, when Denton posted notice on Craigslist and Facebook that he was selling off the Kearny Mesa music shop he’s owned for 35 years.
Or, looking for an investor: “$500,000 would get me back on track,” he says. “I’d like another $500,000 to buy new inventory.”
7120 Clairemont Mesa Boulevard, Kearny Mesa
Considered by many to be the center of rock-guitar gravity in San Diego, for years Guitar Trader was managed by ex-Child guitarist Thom Beebe. He remembers regular customers like Craig Goldy of Dio and Warren DeMartini and Robbin Crosby of Ratt. “And the Beat Farmers and Mojo Nixon? All those guys used to come in and play guitar and hang out. And Jennifer Batten, Michael Jackson’s guitarist, used to teach guitar lessons there.”
Denton says in better days the shop grossed $2.6 million per year. He thinks the first big downturn in Guitar Trader’s trajectory came after he sold off the store’s domain name. Per terms of the deal, Guitar Trader could still be used at the retail store but online, Denton had to switch to MusicPower.com. The rest of the problems he chalks up to what he calls irreconcilable differences between himself and his business partner Jeff Baumgart.
In 1982 Eric Denton played keyboards in the Monroes, a local band with a hit song. After “What Do All the People Know” peaked, he bought a guitar shop near the Tower Bar called Music Power, and not with band royalties but with a loan from his grandfather. “People don’t believe how little money I made from the Monroes.” In 1987, he bought Guitar Trader, a modest business that had outgrown founder Ed Chwekun’s garage. In time, Guitar Trader’s success would spawn its own competition: Beebe left to start Guitar and Bass Land and Skin City Drums in El Cajon in 2008, and ex-Trader employees Andy Greenberg and Mark Augustin likewise opened popular guitar shops.
“The bad thing,” Beebe says, “is that the resource of Guitar Trader will be gone. My heart goes out to all the people I hired there who now won’t have jobs.” But Denton’s still hopeful an investor will take the deal and keep Guitar Trader open. “I got an email this morning from a guy that went to Clairemont High School. He’s living in Texas now, says he inherited millions, and that he’s always wanted to own a guitar store...”