Dean’s Strings and Music Supplies in Whitehorse is focused on the local scene
This story originally ran in the Summer 2014 (V8I2) edition of Yukon, North of Ordinary.
Sunshine pours through the front windows of Dean’s Strings and Music Supplies, illuminating the keyboard on display. Owner Dean Tower stands behind the counter conversing with a customer against a backdrop of instruments and accessories. A wind chime atop the door clangs each time someone enters, signaling a pair of friendly dogs to stand at attention or come over to greet.
Running the Whitehorse store isn’t an entirely surprising venture for Tower. Music has been central in his life since he picked up a violin as a child. Growing up in Alberta, he played in a marching band, took an orchestra program in school, and eventually got into music education. However, he never imagined retail would become a part of his livelihood.
"I'M A LOCAL STORE, SO THE LOCAL ARTISTS AND MUSICIANS ARE MY BUSINESS."
“When the music store [in Whitehorse] that rented violins closed down, I had a bunch of students who needed violins to rent, so I got shopping around for places to do that,” he explains. “Then I ended up with access to a bunch of instruments and found out I could sell them at the Atlin Music Festival.”
It started in 2006 with a tent at the festival, where Tower sold guitars and other gear. Within a year, he opened up BearPaw Music and Gifts on Third Avenue, in Whitehorse, with fellow entrepreneur Cathy Isaac.
“We didn’t have a clue what we were doing, and neither one of us had a lot of money to start up with,” he says with a laugh. “We made it happen, I guess.”
Although the BearPaw location was small, Tower’s inventory included guitars, keyboards, violins, and amps, along with a variety of cables and accessories. After three years, he realized more space was a must and made the move to his current storefront on Wood Street, in December 2010.
“I don’t know what has caused the growth,” he says. “I’m at the point now where I still have people come into the store and say, ‘Oh, I didn’t know you were here.’ But I think overall most people know that I’m one of the main choices for a music store in town.”
Tower claims he’s on his “13th year of holidays” in the territory, stating the mountains and strong arts and music scene lured him to stay. Almost immediately after settling in he began teaching private violin lessons, which he continues to do on the side.
“I get to watch people going from zero to a hundred,” Tower explains. “Everyone goes at different speeds, and there are always those moments where it’s like, ‘Ah, you’ve got it.’ I love the teaching.”
Tower is also known for selling tickets to local shows, as well as sponsoring and supporting arts events in the territory.
“That’s what keeps me in business. I’m not a tourist store. I’m a local store, so the local artists and musicians are my business,” he explains. “Honestly, the people who are in the music circles, I love them.
They’re great people. They all have their own character and are just a fun group.”
As a small business owner, Tower says he continues to expand when it’s afford- able. While he certainly has his eye on many new instruments and products, he admits he can’t do it all yet, but has gone on to add custom amps, Breedlove guitars, and Boss pedals and expanded his selection of cables and connectors.
“I’m not entirely sure I still know what I’m doing, but I’m kind of proud of my store. I like it and I like coming to work every day,” he says. “I didn’t imagine being here for 13 years. Now I don’t imagine leaving, so that’s how it goes.” Y