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Latino musicians flock to stores, restaurants, y más

Houston Chronicle

PASADENA, Texas (AP): Requintos, bajo quintos and bajo sextos fill the jam-packed Guitar Stringer shop in this growing working-class city.

Accordions painted the red, white and green of the Mexican flag occupy a display case, and songbooks for Los Tigres del Norte share shelf space with Fleetwood Mac method books at this music shop.

Once catering to Anglo industrial plant workers, Guitar Stringer owner Robert Stringer estimates that 70 percent of his customers today are Latino musicians. In response, the store carries Spanish-language DVDs, guitar straps decorated with the Mexican flag and a line of accordions, an instrument popular in Latino bands.

``It was an obvious market, so we began to look for the product line,'' said John Stringer, who founded the shop a quarter-century ago. His son, Robert Stringer, now owns the store.

As, for example, the Houston area’s Latino population has soared, retailers like Guitar Stringer and Parker Music are increasingly shifting their product mix to cater to Tejano, mariachi, and norteña musicians.

“I would say in the last one or two years, it’s been a lot easier to find things that we need,'' said Mike Ricarte, who manages Negami, a Tejano group that often performs at concerts and festivals in northern México, but occasionally at venues in the Houston area, such as Palmer’s Ice House and Hallabaloo.

With everything from congas to large, round-backed guitarones on sale in Houston stores, the boost in business from Latino musicians is helping local music stores compete with Internet retailers and music store chains. Just across the street from Guitar Stringer, a Wal-Mart store sells a guitar for less than $100.

But musicians still shop at independent retailers where they can easily try out instruments before making purchases.

Some are professional musicians, who perform at area restaurants, clubs, and parties.

And this phenomenon can be seen across the United States. Web casting such music and its musicians is popular as illustrated by BNetRadio (www.bnetradio.com, which can also be viewed at www.laprensa1.com).  The Grammys have included numerous categories in its annual awards (See Carla’s Corner).

“They can make a decent living out of it,'' Robert Stringer said of the local artists.

Others simply enjoy playing, and many perform at their Spanish-language Christian churches.

“The enormous growth of the Spanish churches has really fired this market,'' said Linda Kroger, owner of Parker Music, a nearly century-old shop that began selling instruments and equipment to members of Spanish-language Christian groups a decade ago.

About 40 percent of Parker’s customers are Latino, said Kroger, who advertises in English and Spanish to tap into both markets. Her customer roster includes bongo-buying musicians and disc jockeys in the market for turntables and microphones they will use at quinceañeras for 15-year-old debutantes.

Kroger hires bilingual salespeople and repair technicians to better serve Spanish-speaking customers, who often fill the store on Sundays, when entire families shop after church.

At Guitar Stringer, neither Robert nor John Stringer understands much Spanish, but with a few words and hand gestures they manage to figure out what their customers want and need.

In less than an hour one afternoon, Robert and John Stringer helped three Spanish-speaking customers select merchandise.

One Latino bought a guitar pickup.

Another woman handed John Stringer a note describing the guitar string her husband wanted.

And a frequent customer from Baytown stopped in to make a payment on the amplifier he was purchasing on a layaway plan.

The store is also popular with young Latino rock musicians.

Nick Morales stops by the store before nearly every gig he plays with his band, Lunara.

``I bought my first guitar here,'' said Morales, 20, who began playing six years ago.

The Stringers watched as Morales played a Paul Reed Smith and considered purchasing the black electric guitar.

``It's learn your market and help them take care of their needs,'' John Stringer said.

``And hopefully make enough money to pay your bills,'' Robert Stringer added.

Editor’s Note: Rico de La Prensa contributed to this report.





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