Life on a string

The stately rooms of Clintonville's Loft Violin Shop are in a sort of musical frenzy. Salespeople bark out numbers from behind a massive wooden counter, prompting entire families to step forward, clutching their number and a sheaf of paperwork.

“Who wants to go first?” asks the saleswoman behind the counter when told that three of the five children of Dewayne and Rebecca Campbell will be renting instruments today.

Within 15 minutes, saleswoman Stella Schlub has outfitted Tori, 11, with a full-size violin, Livi, 10, with a half-size violin and Anna, 9, with a half-size cello. She explains to each how to store and carry their new rentals and sends them on their way with “birth certificates” and nicknames—Blinky, Inky and Pinky—for their new stringed friends. “I can't wait to get it home,” Livi gushes as she hoists her violin onto her back.

The Canal Winchester family leaves behind a room packed with others anxiously awaiting their rentals in the organized chaos of a Saturday at the Loft. In late summer, as school music programs start, the onslaught begins. All at once, hundreds of children need violins, violas, cellos and occasionally a string bass. And the Loft matches them up, measuring each child and calculating which size instrument will fit their arm length, pinky finger and body height, illustrating the proper “care and feeding” of each choice and inviting their young musicians to become a “violin ninja” or a “cello cowboy.”

“I remember the craziness when we rented for our son,” says Nancy Sofowora of Dublin as she waits to rent a violin for daughter Konyinsola, 10, on the first Saturday in September. “There's no way we can come during the week because the kids have too many activities,” says Sofowora as she glances around the room at the crowd. “My number is 77, and I'm just hoping there are not 75 people in front of me.”

There aren't—Loft owner David Schlub has efficiency down pat after renting stringed instruments for 31 years. About 2,000 rentals leave the store each year, with most crammed into a three- or four-week window in August and September. Business gets so crazy during that time that Schlub puts tents up on the store's front lawn on consecutive Saturdays to ease the process.

“It's gotten bigger than we ever thought it would,” says Schlub, a former violinist with the Columbus Symphony Orchestra. “We enjoy a good reputation among the teachers because we specialize in what we do. And it's a good deal—all the rental costs [go] toward the purchase, so our rent is actually free if you end up buying the instrument.”

Rents range from $20 to $50 a month, depending on the instrument, and include free repairs and a case, plus bow and size upgrades as needed. Central Ohio string teachers continue to refer their students to Schlub even after moving to other states; Schlub has shipped rentals to Kansas and, most recently, Louisiana.

He also allows renters to switch out instruments if they have a change of, well, heartstrings. That came in handy for the Campbell family. After they got their rentals home, Anna decided she wanted a viola instead of a cello and Livi opted for the cello instead of the violin.

“The Loft made the switch flawless,” Rebecca Campbell says. “It's a good sound, a house filled with music.”