Three generations of young musicians have been coming to his shop to buy their first guitar and take lessons, but Jim Pinkston says he’ll soon take his final bow.
In 30 to 60 days, he’ll close the shop at 2059 E. Pass Road and retire.
“Because I own the building I don’t have to be out Friday,” he said with a smile. He will continue to rent band instruments, something he can do in a few weeks at the start of school and then service them through the year.
“I’ve had a great run,” said Pinkston, 62, who went into the retail side of music 27 years ago. Before that, he was “born and raised a Memphis musician.”
Closing is bittersweet. “That’s the word,” he said. “Once I made the decision, I actually felt really good about it.”
He recently put up signs in the store and on the marquee announcing his retirement, and his loyal customers rushed in, saying they wanted to buy one more guitar from him.
“I’ve sold 140 guitars in 30 days,” he said. Also on sale are drums, amplifiers, picks and even the building, which has parking in front and enough room in back to hold about 30 cars.
“This building could be anything,” he said. He built it in 1994 and expanded it six years later to more than 6,000 square feet.
But he won’t empty his warehouse for the sale.
“The way I want to leave this industry is with integrity,” he said. “The last thing I want to do is flood the market.”
That happened to him when he started. A local company sold a large number of closeout guitars just as he opened in 1990, in a 12-by-40-foot building in Gulfport with three light bulbs hanging from the ceiling. He survived, he said, because he was paying just $165 a month rent, which let him build inventory and his business. Over the years, he turned his initial $4,000 investment into what he said became the largest guitar shop in Mississippi.
His first gig in Gulfport in 1988 changed his life. His band played the Suburban Club and it was there he met Angie Cornell, who became his wife. Together they raised two sons on the Coast.
He had been traveling for years, playing bass as a member of the Lonely Street Duo, a music and stand-up comedy act that played in the 27 Chelsea Street Pubs across the U.S. and in other clubs from Mexico to Canada. He also played with Jerry Lee Lewis.
“I was a hired gun,” he said, and because he knew 1,000 songs, “I could walk on any stage and play with anyone.”
When he moved to Gulfport, he played bass, his wife played keyboards and they hired a guitarist. “We were the house band at the Copa Casino,” he said, playing music and entertaining the crowd.
Although he didn’t know anyone when he arrived in South Mississippi, the local musicians found his shop and some of them sold equipment or gave lessons there. George Mason, who played with Lawrence Welk as a child and produced many albums, still teaches there. “He’s one of my guys,” Pinkston said.
Music has changed since he grew up listening to Van Morrison and Pink Floyd. “There are no guitar heroes and no rock bands” now, he said, and local music shops have been hurt by the internet.
“It’s all over 10 percent,” he said, referring to how people come in and play his guitars, but then order them online for a slightly lower price. “How ridiculous is that?”
“I have no regrets,” he said, and he’s made a big impression on his customers and his employees.
“Honestly, I’ve never worked for a better guy in my life,” said Ryan Ybos, who has worked at the store for 10 years and is now manager. He calls Pinkston his mentor and friend and said, “I have people messaging me on Facebook and crying because the store is closing.”
Many people said over his 27 years they never would have learned to play a guitar if not for the store, Pinkston said.
But it’s time for him to slow down.
“I really want time for me and my wife and my kids,” he said. “It’s a wonderful life. I watch it every Christmas Eve.”