Swan song for old Axe Music location as Long & McQuade opens new store

With its large neon guitar sign and colourful musical murals, it's hard to miss the old Axe Music store on Wayne Gretzky Drive in Edmonton's northeast.

But on Saturday, the store will close for good. 

For decades, the store was a staple among local musicians and the area around the old Northlands Coliseum. 

After nearly 40 years in Edmonton, Axe sold its Edmonton location to Long & McQuade last year and it's been operating under that banner since June 2018. 

Although there have been a lot of memories and music made in the shop just north of 118th Avenue, staff are excited to move to a bigger and more modern store a few blocks away in the Highlands neighbourhood.

"We've been sad for a while, but over the last few months, we're really happy to make the change now," said store manager Rick Shermack. 

Nathan Gross/CBC

The sale to Long & McQuade was announced last year. In a Facebook post in February 2018, Axe Music president Brian Holowaychuk said the decision was the "hardest choice I have had to make."

Shermack, also known by his nickname "Rockin' Rick" was with Axe for 24 years. He started working in sales and was a partner in the company when the decision was made to sell to Long & McQuade. 

Shermack said Long & McQuade was already working on a new location so the closure of the Axe store was always planned. 

Rockin' Rick was a mainstay at the store and known for voicing the Axe commercials. He said with the store's proximity to the Coliseum it wasn't uncommon to have major musical acts stop by the shop.

"One of the largest ones was Prince rehearsed here for a day for some shows. And that was a whole all day experience of fun and we were very fortunate to have him here."

Shermack said the music industry has changed a lot over the years. 

"We've seen it all come and go from when a major part of our business back in the '80s and '90s was selling recording tape and lighting lamps and bulbs that don't exist anymore," he said. 

Nathan Gross/CBC

"The tape doesn't exist anymore. A lot of karaoke business that doesn't exist anymore. Cassette tapes that don't exist anymore. We've watched that evolve. But the mainstay items such as guitars, drums, PA systems, lighting, that has never changed."

Shermack said the new store on 118th Avenue and 66th Street is about 25 per cent larger than the old one. The new Long & McQuade Highlands location will employ about 30 people. All of the staff from the old location will be at the new one as well as several new hires.

As for the big Axe guitar? Its future is uncertain but it hasn't been forgotten.

"The big guitar sign is currently up for sale," said Shermack. "We've been in contact with the city as well for possibly moving it to the neon museum downtown. So that's all in their court right now, but it'd sure be nice for that to go to a new home."

Nathan Gross/CBC