Bluegrass Musicians Supply, Beck and Orr Book Binding and New Holly Hill Shoe Repair look almost identical today as they did when they opened.
When Columbus Monthly photo editor Tim Johnson visited Bluegrass Musicians Supply in October, longtime employee Merilee Dempsey picked up a ukulele and showed Johnson how to play, strumming the four-stringed instrument as she sang a traditional bluegrass song. It was a timeless moment in a timeless place, captured by Johnson in the photo above.
This fall, Johnson photographed the music shop and two other venerable Columbus businesses, Beck and Orr Book Binding in the Hilltop and New Holly Hill Shoe Repair on the West Side. The past decade has been transformational for Columbus—and you can read all about those changes in our Defining Decade feature package that also ran in our December issue—but in the following photo essay, Johnson documents places that refuse to let modernity steamroll their traditions (or force them to update the décor). These time capsules face a monumental challenge to survive amid so much progress, but a few common traits seem to keep them relevant: passion, dedication, craftsmanship, community. When Johnson photographed New Holly Hill’s Preston Spencer, a woman asked the 80-year-old cobbler to repair a beloved pair of sneakers. Spencer couldn’t help her, but she was still impressed. “I’m going to tell everybody about you,” she said. We hope she did. —Dave Ghose
Scroll down to see photos of the three businesses.
Bluegrass Musicians Supply
1370 S. High St., South Side, Columbus
As you walk into Bluegrass Musicians Supply, you’re greeted by the smell of fresh-brewed coffee. Guitars hang from the walls, while rows of mandolins are fastened to the ceiling. Owner John Barriga is often perched on his stool behind the counter, while employee Merilee Dempsey is usually talking up a storm. On Saturdays, you often hear the high and lonesome sound of banjos, acoustic and slide guitars and mandolins coming up from the basement. The store has been hosting the basement bluegrass jam for at least 25 years, since the business opened in a quaint former house just south of German Village.
Beck and Orr Book Binding
3097 W. Broad St., Hilltop, Columbus
Even though antique books fill the space, Beck and Orr Book Binding lacks the quiet reverence of an old library. Owner Ron Bowman, with his Irish cap and a pencil tucked behind his ear, is quick to burst into an exuberant story punctuated with colorful language. His son Skip praises the Buckeyes and mourns the fate of the Browns but doesn’t dwell on their successes and failures. He says he’s happy every day he’s aboveground. But when both return to work, they do so with quiet intensity, measuring covers, sewing bindings, cutting materials and slathering glue stored in crocks. Their business traces its history to the 1880s, and they take it as seriously as their predecessors did.
New Holly Hill Shoe Repair
3855 Sullivant Ave., West Side, Columbus
Preston Spencer started shining shoes when he was about 11 to make a little extra money. He’s been working with footwear ever since. The 80-year-old cobbler moves fluidly in his highly polished loafers through the narrow paths of his West Side shop. His large hands gently mend everything from broken heels to shoes chewed by dogs. Spencer often will do a quick zipper fix for free and explains repairs and maintenance customers can do on their own. In his youth, he also worked on a family farm breaking horses on Sunday afternoons. “I was about as wild as those horses then,” he says with a twinkle in his eye.
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