The Rapidian

Southtown Guitar works to impact music, community

Dean Wiers-Windemuller wants his guitar store to be community-focused in many ways.
Dean Wiers-Windemuller (left) and Southtown Guitar employee Jesse Bandfield in the store

Dean Wiers-Windemuller (left) and Southtown Guitar employee Jesse Bandfield in the store /Davis Dryer

Southtown Guitar Info

1258 Madison Ave., SE

(616)-719-1570

Southtown Guitar

Dean Wiers-Windemuller

Dean Wiers-Windemuller /Davis Dryer

When Dean Wiers-Windemuller decided to open a guitar store, he knew from the get-go that he wanted his business to be different.

“I never liked guitar stores before,” says Wiers-Windemuller. "That’s why it feels really weird that I own a guitar store. There’s kind of a macho culture. You feel dumb asking questions. I’m trying to create a store that’s welcoming, where there are no dumb questions.”

Beyond simply opening a place to sell guitars and equipment, Wiers-Windemuller wants to create a place that can achieve bigger goals. First of all, he decided to start his business in Southtown, the neighborhood where he and his family live. Spending three months renovating a former salon, Wiers-Windemuller focused on creating a clean, fresh space that feels comfortable to work and learn in.

He envisions Southtown Guitar as a place where anyone can come in.

“There’s a sense to me that would like it to be kind of a community center-type feel where people can come in and jam,” he says. However, he also acknowledges the struggles of balancing that alongside the simple for-profit business aspect of Southtown Guitar.

“I’m not actually sure how that would mesh with having a retail store… because really I started a store because I needed to make more money for my family," he says. "I love the creative aspect, I love that I’m building something, so there’s a lot of internal motivators for me. But through what I’m putting out in the community I’m also trying to think how can I help the community, not just how can I maximize my profits.”

One of the obvious ways one can see Southtown Guitar reaching out into the community is through the learning community they are working towards. Southtown Guitar offers music lessons, and currently has around 45 students. Wiers-Windemuller has also begun a series of learning workshops for people to come and learn more about various aspects of music and music equipment, such as amplifiers and electronics.

Wiers-Windemuller has a big vision for a way to offer music to the community through a music scholarship program. Many people in the Southtown community have a desire to take music lessons but are unable to afford them. Through the scholarship program, Wiers-Windemuller hopes to be able to offer guitar lessons to individuals with the desire and drive to learn music, but who would otherwise be unable to afford them. Though currently funded by Southtown Guitar, Wiers-Windemuller plans to, in the near future, open up the scholarship program to donors who want to help bring music lessons to the Southtown community.

Wiers-Windemuller sets his sights high for the kind of impact he’d like Southtown Guitar to be able to achieve.

“I have a very strong vision for social justice and serving the poor, and probably my biggest hero is Martin Luther King Jr,” he says. “My vision for Southtown Guitar is that somehow we can carry on that kind of work in a business structure. And businesses are super important for those kind of issues because it generates wealth in this community, especially since I live in this community. I’m hoping to be able to employ people from the community. That’s a big part of creating a healthy neighborhood with healthy jobs.”

Wiers-Windemuller acknowledges that the gap between owning a guitar store and helping social justice issues is a large one. However, he feels that setting out with that goal in mind will help him and Southtown be able to achieve that goal.

“It’ll be a process of trial and error,” he says. “I think having the desire for it to grow that way and the idea in the first place is the important thing, and I can work out all the details as I go along.”

Wiers-Windemuller looks to deepen Southtown Guitar’s presence and involvement in the community. He hopes to broaden his community’s awareness of Southtown Guitar and the role he would like for it to play. On August 3, Southtown Guitar will be hosting an all day “grand opening,” complete with barbeque and music. Wiers-Windemuller hopes people will come in from around Grand Rapids to get to know Southtown Guitar and share in his vision for the unique identity he hopes to create for the store.

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