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A-Pickin' And A-Shoppin' 

All-acoustic music store opens; electric guitarists still have nowhere to buy strings

The newly opened Acoustic Music Works shop in Squirrel Hill may not yet be fully stocked; the CD racks in the back might be half-empty; and the basic logistics, like turning the "Open/Closed" sign around, are getting their kinks worked out. But the acoustic-music specialty shop's most important feature is firmly in place.

"I asked Herb Trotman of [nationally known acoustic-music shop] Fretted Instruments in Birmingham, Alabama, 'What's the most important thing for me to do,'" says co-owner Steve Miklas. "He said, 'Get a couch in your store!'"

Miklas has been planning Acoustic Music Works, co-owned with Jack Stein, for almost 20 years. It specializes in the sale and repair of acoustic guitars, mandolins, banjos and all the other emblems of folk, blues, bluegrass and other traditional American music. The store's location -- near the corner of Murray Avenue and Phillips Street -- is no accident, says Miklas, a board member of Calliope, the Pittsburgh folk music society.

"We've been looking for a space all over Pittsburgh for seven or eight months," Miklas says. "But our goal" -- reaching Oakland, Squirrel Hill and Shadyside -- "basically had 15217 written all over it." Of Calliope's database of about 5,000 names of folk-music ticket-buyers and, most importantly, students, "& a disproportionate number [live] in 15217," he says.

Miklas hopes that a good share of that disproportionate number stop in to do their instrument shopping and repairs. He traded a career in computer operations at Federated Investors for the new, more risky, albeit slightly more romantic life as acoustic-music overlord. The store's game plan ought to work: Miklas and Stein have done their homework.

"I've visited about 200 music stores preparing for this," says Miklas. "About 50 are listed in our business plan, and [many of] those folks have spent hours with me helping to crystallize our idea," a shop that's "half retail store, half living room" -- kind of a clubhouse for the acoustic set.

To facilitate that, Miklas and Stein have begun booking acts into the shop -- a workshop from finger-style guitarist Pat Donohue, of Prairie Home Companion fame, and a performance by local bluegrassers Second Wind will help the shop celebrate its grand opening Sept. 13-14 -- the weekend some aficionados celebrate Bill Monroe's birthday anyway.

Eventually, Miklas hopes, Acoustic Music Works will attain the level of devotion of Fretted Instruments and its ilk. "Herb Trotman says, 'Eventually, someone'll stop by with a sandwich for you; they'll start playing the new instruments, and telling everyone they know about the store.' The key is to have them feel as comfortable as if they were in your home."

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