There's no secret that bigger corporations have a hand in most aspects of our lives these days. Whatever you need, there's something to buy, and they're the ones to sell it. Thusly endangered is the local business template: the mom and pop store where locals can go, talk neighborly gossip and purchase their whatnot. It's even rarer for said local shops to blossom in the 21st century, but amongst all of this, The Candyman Strings & Things stands out as a Santa Fe institution, and it's celebrating its 50th year this month.
Co-owner Rand Cook carries himself with the exuberance of a man half his age, yet the wisdom of an old sage. A longtime employee before purchasing the business in 2009, Rand is hungry for the future, but it's not just about the money.
"Things are great," he tells SFR. "We're growing. I mean, this is retail after all; we have to make money—but we wanna make the world better. We have an amazing gift here."
That gift is music itself, an invaluable one, and one the Candyman provides in abundance to the old hands, the hobbyists and the youths just starting out with lessons, public jam sessions and the store's Summer Rock Camp program, which recently completed its 10th year.
Originally, the store opened by Matthew Schwartzman in 1969, was intended to be an easy access music shop, leading the way not only in instruments, but vinyl, tapes, Betamax and CDs. The business also maintained a sound system installation niche, including everything from home theaters to built-in audio for courts and other state services. But the other shoe dropped in 2009, and the pain that followed can still be felt in the walls of the space.
"Matthew getting sick and passing in '09 was easily the biggest hit we've had." Rand says. "Then the recession came and those days were really, really dark."
Rand had worked in the store since 1990. He purchased The Candyman that May with his wife, Cindy, who immediately set about revitalizing the business with new ideas, starting with inclusion in the nonprofit National Association of Music Merchants. NAMM seeks to sit on the cutting edge of music creation and
production, and its annual trade shows in Anaheim, California, are the nexus of all things music gear and the stuff of legend.
"When Matthew and I would visit NAMM, we would have our meetings, make our deals and leave," Rand says. "Cindy came and immediately was a presence."
She helped the business change its approach to service, doubling down on the tenets of strong products and a friendly, helpful staff. The main idea, meanwhile, was to evolve the concept of the music store from niche-catering to community-minded instrument mecca.
"We really wanted to make the conscious move of an exclusive environment to an inclusive one," Cindy says. "We had to break bad habits and make the space welcoming."
"It came to the point where we needed the staff to make the effort, and 'buy in' to what we were doing," Rand adds.
Of course, the staff are there to learn as well, and it's mostly comprised of young and working musicians and engineers pulling shop hours in between the music they're either creating or maintaining professionally. On any given day, shoppers can find Free Range Buddhas front woman Francesca Jozette on the floor, or metal guitarists Damian Jacoby and Chris Riggins, among others.
"This job is a stepping stone for these guys to get to the next level," Rand stresses.
After visiting the NAMM show in 2009, Cindy realized education was vital to the future of the business. Rand, however, was a little hesitant. Luckily, at roughly the same time, local musician Ross Hamlin had become interested in spearheading a youth-based education program within the community.
"I found a bunch of students who simply wanted to start a band, and Cindy was inspired by everything she had seen [at NAAM]," Hamlin explains. "She created the infrastructure for it and it works so well."
Fast forward 10 years and Rock Camp maintains an obvious effect on budding musicians and The Candyman's business strategy alike. And while participants can certainly buy gear from the store where they get their lessons, The Candyman is also doling out lessons in work ethic and autonomy.
"With these other rock schools, they suggest the songs the kids learn," Hamlin says. "Here, the kids pick them themselves."
And therein lies an important dose of humor, according to Rand.
"More often than not, they're picking songs their dads listen to," he says with a laugh.
But it doesn't end with learning the best radio hits of the last few decades. According to Hamlin and the Cooks, the youths who attend have found
personal growth with the help of the summer experience.
"The program teaches teamwork and self-confidence, which is huge," Hamlin says.
"We get so many stories of kids finding a place they belonged," Rand adds, "where they could call their own."
After receiving numerous awards throughout the years, including the Santa Fe Small Business Development Center's Star Client Award in 2013, a handful of SFR's Best of Santa Fe nods and NAMM's coveted Dealer of the Year in 2014—beating out industry giants such as Sam Ash and Guitar Center—Mayor Alan
Webber proclaimed May 31 as The Candyman Strings & Things Day in Santa Fe.
The Candyman has chosen the community and the community has rallied in kind. The business celebrates that feeling, plus the 50 years thing, at a day-long party at The Bridge on Sunday Sept. 22 including a salute to the first Woodstock crammed with notable locals. It's free to the public, though it also serves as a fundraiser for the Summer Rock Camp scholarship program as well as Soldier Songs and Voices, a nonprofit that provides songwriting lessons to veterans.
"If anything, I want to feel like we effected a hundred times the amount of people we have," Rand says. "Major organizations don't reach out to the community. We do."
The Candyman Celebrates 1969:
Noon-9 pm Sunday Sept. 22. Free.
The Bridge @Santa Fe Brewing Co.,
37 Fire Place,