COLUMBIA — On the floor at the Barnhouse's Crazy Music Store are so many things that you wonder how it all fit together — boxes, cables, guitar bags, even a bit of straw that fell out of a pair of spotlights.
"When you rent stuff out, you don't know where it's been," Bill Barnhouse said. He co-owns the business with his wife, Heidi.
After seven years at Eighth and Locust streets, the Barnhouses are moving their shop to the Parkade Center on Business Loop 70. The new place will open Jan. 6, 2014.
The Barnhouses took over the Crazy Music Store from owner Ken Wikowski, who opened and ran it from 1973 until his death in 2005. Bill Barnhouse started working for Wikowski, whose stage name was Ken Shepherd, in 2001 and became a manager within a year.
In 2006, the Barnhouses moved the store from Tenth and Ash streets, a space now used as the Columbia office for Democratic U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill to its current location.
Bill Barnhouse said they knew for a while that the move was inevitable. Their multiyear lease was running out at the end of December.
Pulling up stakes
At the downtown location, walls are covered with fake wood paneling or off-white carpeting. The carpeting, Bill Barnhouse said tactfully, "precedes us."
In the midst of all the helter-skelter packing, an employee took a call and alerted Barnhouse it was for him.
"Let me show you my customer service skills," he said with an impish grin. He took the person off hold. "What!?" he shouted, razzing the caller. It was his wife — but Barnhouse had known that.
Barnhouse, who plays several instruments including guitar and drums, estimated he's been playing music since he was 12 or 13, when he started his first band. One of his keys to success? "I played Skynyrd," the 52-year-old said, "so we got gigs."
Barnhouse considers the store a vestige of the old model of the instrument business: stock a lot of things that people can handle and try out before purchasing. The store carries a variety of instruments and equipment, including guitars, ukeleles, banjos, amplifiers and speakers.
Business grew steadily after the move to Eighth and Locust but peaked about 2010 with the recession, he said. Since then, sales have remained relatively stagnant. It doesn't help that more people buy things online.
Still, as the Barnhouses move toward a more focused selection of products, they plan to cater to a fastidious clientele — people who have in particular been coming to them for years with particular needs.
Like "lamps," the jargon name for lightbulbs. Bill Barnhouse opened a plastic tub of them and took out some of the oldest ones, marked with faded labels of increasing prices. If the customers still have the light, Barnhouse said, they still have the bulbs.
Also in the back rooms waiting to be moved to Parkade were six waist-high stacks of drum heads and tubs of cables with old and new names.
Heidi Barnhouse said that although Crazy Music will lose its foot traffic, Parkade is a better location because the store will be more accessible. Parkade is an up-and-coming place, especially since the Columbia Farmers Market is based there in the winter, she said.
The new place will be about 300 feet bigger than the roughly 1,800 square feet they've have now, she said.
Most customers have reacted positively to the change, she said.
A number of famous people have dropped by Crazy Music over the years, Bill Barnhouse recalled, including blues guitarist Joe Bonamassa, one of Willie Nelson's drummers, and singer Ryan Adams, who had also visited the original store.
Bill Barnhouse's favorite guest, however, wasn't a musician at all.
Lucas Black, known most recently for his role as Pee Wee Reese in the movie "42," played a boy in the 1996 movie "Sling Blade," beloved by Barnhouse. Black was grown up the day he walked in the store, but Barnhouse said he would have known that Alabama accent anywhere.
Black, Barnhouse and a couple others in the store rehashed old lines from the movie. Black ended up buying a harmonica.
Although the move to the Parkade Center might bring in more business, both Barnhouses are sad to leave downtown. Asked whether he thought that type of atmosphere would follow them to the new place, Barnhouse looked down.
"I doubt it," he said— musicians playing The Blue Note aren't likely to drop by Parkade.
Customers who want to visit the store before it moves will find it open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. every day Thursday through Tuesday, New Year's Eve, when it will close at 4 p.m.
Supervising editor is Elizabeth Brixey.