Grandpa Barry's Guitars to expand, take over former home of Papa's Antiques

Marissa Ventrelli
The Ottawa Herald

An Ottawa couple's passion for string instruments has led to a new business endeavor come the new year: Grandpa Barry's Guitars owners Barry and Eileen Spickler will be taking over the building that is currently home to Papa's Antiques when its owners, Mark and Debbie Cation, retire at the end of December. 

Grandpa Barry's started out as a booth in the former incubator store at 129 S. Main Street in 2018, but when the Ottawa Main Street Association decided to end its lease on the building, the Cations took over and opened Papa's Antiques. Grandpa Barry's stayed in the building, which also houses the antique store and a booth operated by potter Kelly Pinet, who will be staying in the building after the transition.

The Spicklers came to Ottawa from the Washington, DC area in June of 2018. They decided to move to be closer to Barry's children after their house was destroyed in a fire and Barry, who works for the FDA, was furloughed during a government shutdown. Barry had taken up guitar lessons shortly after his 50th birthday and thought his instrument was ruined after a part broke, but when he saw how the shop was able to bring it back to life, he says he "fell in love" with fixing guitars and decided to try doing it himself. 

Barry began selling and fixing guitars his home in Ottawa, and when the space became available at the incubator store in December 2018, the Spicklers decided to take the leap and open a storefront. "It looked like a place with opportunity because the Ottawa Music store had gone out of business a couple years before we got there," Barry explained. He met Ottawa Music's former owner, Calvin Rosey, when he arrived in town and Rosey told him everything he needed to know to be well-prepared to open his own store.  When it came time to name their new enterprise, it was a no-brainer. Barry is a grandfather of 15 and relishes the role. "Other peoples' kids run up and call me grandpa," he said, "I'm everybody's grandpa."

"What differentiates us from other music stores in the area is that we are your place in Ottawa for all things strings," Barry explained. Grandpa Barry's sells everything a string player in Ottawa could possibly need, from acoustic and electric guitars to amps, picks and hybrid instruments like the banjolele, a banjo-ukulele cross. "I kinda cater to people who collect guitars, because I like the unique ones," Barry said. One of his favorites is a guitar that was used in a production of The Color Purple at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC. "Everybody who knows guitars goes and picks that one up first," said Barry. "People can tell exactly what it is - it's not your average, run-of-the-mill guitar," Grandpa Barry's also offers guitar and banjo lessons and does repairs, which are Barry's specialty as he's been unable to play very much due to his psoriatic arthritis. 

One of Grandpa Barry's most popular guitars is the one in the center, which was used in a production of The Color Purple at the Kennedy Center in Washington DC.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Cations closed the building for several weeks in the spring of 2020. During this time, Barry, who still also works for the FDA, was able to keep his guitar business afloat by doing home deliveries, oftentimes to parents who were helping their students learn remotely and wanted to hold their own at-home music class. "During the pandemic, we thrived because we were making deliveries. We'd strap on a mask and gloves and drop a guitar off to somebody who's homeschooling." Hobbies like guitar also increased in popularity during the pandemic, which was great news for Grandpa Barry's. In doing some business research, Eileen Spickler was intrigued to find out just how much the pandemic had impacted music stores. "In 2018 or 19, the business outlook was not good," she said. "The growth had really leveled off, and ever since the pandemic, it's growing exponentially again"

Come January 1, the Spicklers have big plans to convert the space from an antique mall to a full-fledged guitar shop. "We'll have more guitars, we're gonna open the floor plan up a little bit so we can have a bigger acoustic guitar section, a bass guitar section, traditional instruments and that sort of thing, and more music rooms to teach," Barry explained. "We're trying to still flesh it out, but we want to have at least once a month and maybe even once a week, jam sessions - have people come in and jam," added Eileen. The goal with the weekly jam sessions is to hold them in a casual, relaxed environment where people can have food and drinks while they're listening to music. 

Grandpa Barry's offers a wide selection of string instruments, parts and accessories

The Spicklers plan to have a ribbon-cutting for the new store sometime in January. Papa's Antiques will be open until the end of December. 

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