A place to buy a guitar since 1964, ABC Music Company closes

David Chassman, left, and son-in-law Dan Miles, right, posing in ABC Music Company, which closed earlier this month. (Ron Cooper/Salem Reporter)

After nearly 60 years in business, the remnants of ABC Music Company were gone in a single phone call.

The music store has been a consistent sight in downtown Salem, as the city has grown and changed over the years. It evolved from a hardware store to selling guitars for decades, outlasting other indie music shops around the U.S.

Owner David Chassman said they didn’t have to sell, but he and his wife were looking at retirement.

They’re selling the building at 263 Chemeketa St. N.E. to the city of Salem, which has plans to redevelop the block.

“We could’ve stayed there but had to deal with all this construction going on, it just didn’t make sense,” he said. “For me at my age and my wife it just made sense for us to go with the flow and move on to the next phase of our life.”

He said it was the perfect time to sell, because there’s been difficultly getting inventory during the pandemic which made it easy to sell instruments to other dealers.

“I made one phone call and all of it was gone,” he said.

The store closed on Oct. 18.


ABC Music Company wasn’t a music store to begin with.

It used to be Square Deal Hardware, a store Chassman’s grandfather started after serving in World War II.

His grandfather was an armaments repairman during the war, trained to repair guns, turrets and tanks.

Then he became a watchmaker.

Following the war, it was hard to get merchandise, so his mother would travel to New York City to go to the jewelry wholesaler for her father.

It was in New York that Chassman’s parents met. The pair returned to Oregon and for several years Chassman’s father and grandfather ran Square Deal.

As more businesses came into Salem to sell hardware it became more difficult to compete.

A chance encounter with an old friend caused them to branch out into instruments.

Chassman’s mother went up to Portland to check out other options as they considering opening a toy store. When she was out at dinner, she ran into an old friend from high school who owned a music store.

The friend ended up giving Chassman’s mother a few guitars to see how they would sell in the store.

They all sold and in 1964 the family made the decision to go into music full time.

They sold accordions, guitars and ukuleles.

Chassman said young people heard music through the Johnny Cash Show, Ed Sullivan Show or The Beatles, and want to play themselves.

“Kids would be exposed to their music and see the kinds of drums, guitars… and they were out there looking for it,” he said.

Country players, rock and roll players and blues players all came in to buy gear.

“All different markets and they don’t all play the same guitar, or they play the same guitar and it’s set up a different way. You learn off of them and they learn off you,” he said.

Chassman started working in the store when he was in junior high in the early 1970s. When he went to college at Oregon State University, he would come home every weekend to help his parents out.

At first, he learned how to change the strings on a guitar, tune them and adjust the neck. Over time he took on more responsibilities before taking over the store.

Chassman is a guitarist and guitar enthusiast.

One of the highlights of owning the store was hearing Brooks Roberston, an Oregonian guitarist who went on to study at the Berklee College of Music, play at the store in 2013.

Roberston reminded Chassman of the famous guitar picker Tommy Emmanual.

“He really is an Oregon treasure,” he said.


Chassman recalled how in the 1980s he and his wife coincidentally bought a home four houses down from “an extremely good band instrument repairman.”

He said his neighbor was a master at repairing horns and he would spend hours at his house learning from him.

There are skills he learned then that he uses to this day, he said.

Recently, he’s been playing the horn again. He would take the instrument into the store on slow days and practice.

He and his wife bought a motor home a few years back that they’re hoping to put to good use this winter.

For years, Chassman said customers would come into the store in January and load up on strings and picks before they headed to Arizona for the winter.

He said at motorhome parks they’ll put out a sign each night for music.

“If you want to you can play music every night,” he said. “My wife and I plan to go check that out.”

Chassman said there was an outpouring of support since he announced the closure on Facebook.

He choked up describing the love from people thanking him for all the years.

On Facebook he wrote, “We have had many ‘class acts’ work with us over the years. I would hate to name names for fear of leaving somebody off the list. All I can say is, thank you all for your love and patronage over the years. We love you too and thank you for the most important thing of all. Your friendship. I never felt uncomfortable about going to work. I tried to help all those I could and refer people to others when I could not. I will miss seeing you and helping you. Thank you for your trust and patronage. I will miss you all.”

Chassman said all his emotions built up when he wrote the post.

People commented recalling buying their first guitar there or taking lessons in the basement.

“Real bittersweet feeling. I’m so happy that Dave gets to retire, after running the place for so long. He truly deserves it. The thought of ABC shutting down, leaves a melancholy feeling in my heart and soul. It’s simply The Little Music Store that Could. Outlasted the other bigger stores by far. Family run for 60 years. Wow, that’s staying power!” wrote Jesse Ruggles, who said he taught lessons at the store.

Contact reporter Saphara Harrell at 503-549-6250, [email protected].

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