It was nearly 2am on a Friday morning on Miami Beach and a party was in full swing at a popular bar on Purdy avenue. Less than a block away, Gabriel Kaouros, 24, sat inside a music shop among a myriad of stringed instruments, finger-picking a slow blues on his brand new Spanish nylon guitar.
“I’m very satisfied with my purchase,” said Kaouros.
It’s nothing out of the ordinary for this music shop, the South Beach Music Exchange, to conduct business at such unconventional hours. In fact, that is the norm—the store is open from Thursday to Sunday, from 8pm to 3am.
“That’s just when I’m up,” said Marty Sherman, 67, the store’s owner. Sherman runs the shop by himself. There are no other employees. He has handled all business pertaining to the shop since it opened its doors in 2003. Many of the instruments on display are from his personal collection.
“But my most valuable gear is at my house,” said Sherman.
Still, the walls are lined with guitars of all colors, shapes and sizes. And there are not only guitars. Electric stand-up basses, violins, cellos, banjos, lap guitars, amplification equipment of all types, there is even a full drum-kit set up in front of the show window overlooking the bay. In the far corner, behind his workbench hangs a vintage resonator guitar from the 1930’s. A bit tarnished with age, (resonator guitars are made entirely of metal) the guitar still twangs as it did when it was new.
“It’s really a great sounding instrument,” said Sherman as he plucked out a few chords on it.
Sherman’s attitude toward the store is serious, but laid back. The store isn’t his primary source of income. He’s earned his living since he was a teenager by performing music and selling original paintings in New York. Later on he successfully broke into the real estate market in Miami.
“I noticed every four years, every presidential election year, the real estate market boomed,” said Sherman, referring to the early-to-mid-eighties. So he strung together a few deals and started selling properties. One of the properties he obtained was a small, stand-alone building on Purdy avenue.
“Somebody wanted to lease this building for twenty years, but I didn’t want it to be unavailable for so long. I knew it would be my music shop,” said Sherman. “I had always wanted to open a music shop like the ones I went to as a kid in the Bronx, not like the Guitar Center or Sam Ash.”
“And you did just that,” said Kaoruos. He had. Walking into Marty’s store feels distinctly different from walking into your average chain music shop. There are no banners touting sales or deals. There are no mallrats poking around with instruments because they are bored. There’s just Marty and a plethora of guitars.
Since Marty is the only person who minds the shop, anybody who’s been there knows him.
“Anyone who comes into this shop deals with me,” said Sherman. Sherman is also focused on one hundred percent customer satisfaction. If there is a specific brand or type of strings you prefer to use, Sherman will order them and keep them stocked for whenever a new set might be needed. If you’re looking for a specific piece of equipment, he could order it from the manufacturer for you. And if your instrument is broken, Sherman can fix it.
“I can fix anything,” said Sherman, who has experience repairing a wide variety of instruments from guitars to trombones, “Only thing I can’t fix is a broken light bulb.”
And he guarantees his sales and repairs. If a customer buys an instrument Sherman would set it up. If a problem persists after one of his repairs, he would gladly take a second look at it.
“It’s not like Guitar Center where you buy a guitar and they give you one still boxed up from the factory,” said Kaoruos. “A new guitar never comes set up properly.”
And unlike Guitar Center or Sam Ash, people can just come inside and hang out for a while without being hassled by salespeople.
“I don’t mind if people drop by just to look at the instruments or shoot the breeze,” said Sherman.
Kaoruos said he’s dropped into Marty’s shop and wound up playing music with Marty and others for hours past closing time.
“It’s definitely a much more personal experience at Marty’s,” said Kaoruos.
The price tags are similar to larger chain stores in terms of strings or drumsticks, but one is more likely to find that special instrument at Sherman’s because of the variety of instruments he carries.
One guitar for sale at the shop has intricate patterns branded into the bare-wood body with a hot iron.
“This one goes for $250,” said Sherman. “And it really plays great.”
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen a guitar like that at Guitar Center before, let alone for two-hundred fifty bucks,” said Kaoruos. “There are just so many instruments in here, you’d be hard pressed to find a guitar that doesn’t suit you.”
And if one really doesn’t know where to begin looking for an instrument, Sherman will be there to scoot you in the right direction. With decades of experience with music and equipment of all types, Sherman can easily point you towards a bright, folky acoustic guitar or a mean-sounding guitar for hard rock or metal.
“It’s really a unique experience, frequenting Marty’s place, the South Beach Music Exchange. Now that I live on the beach I can visit more frequently,” said Kaoruos. “There’s only one music shop on South Beach that I know of, and that’s the Exchange.”