Family Transplants Music Store to NH to Escape Colorado Wildfires

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By Kyle Stucker

Hampton-North Hampton Patch , July 9, 2013

[The following article is courtesy of

Alchemy Music Center

It was clear to John Wenzel and his family what needed to be done, even if it was difficult to peer out over the distance thanks to the thick, black smoke that had been strangling the wildfire-ravaged Evergreen, Col., for weeks.

They had to move. They had to pack up their lives and the only storefront their 25-year-old business had ever known, to move 2,000 miles east to New Hampshire's Seacoast while they still could.

"If you're not on fire, you smell smoke all summer long," said Wenzel of Colorado and nearby Arizona, both of which have been battling months-long wildfires each of the past several summers. "It's nice to build a house in the woods, but it's going to burn down. You can't live in the woods and mountains anymore because of the fire damage. After 30 years, it was just kind of getting old.

"Now we're by the ocean, and I think we'll be happy here."

Wenzel, along with his wife Teresa and daughter Vanessa, opened Alchemy Music Center in Hampton's Depot Square less than a month ago. John and Teresa grew up in Michigan and Ohio, and found that the oceanside town would be an ideal place to transplant their business after deciding New England would be the best area to start the next measure of their lives — and avoid wildfires.

Alchemy Music originally opened in Colorado in 1988, and John Wenzel said bringing the music instrument store to Hampton not only enhances the number of instructional options around for budding musicians, but also provides downtown Hampton and the southern Seacoast area with a retail music store, which is something the area no longer has many of.

Lessons and repairs are the primary moneymakers for music businesses, although Wenzel said it's "just silly" to send students "someplace else" if they need instruments or strings, drumsticks, reeds and other accessories. Small, family-owned music shops are becoming an endangered species thanks to big-box music empires, although Wenzel said he thinks there's "still room" for a full-service "mom-and-pop music shop if you can find enough people to support it."

Because of this, Wenzel said it won't be easy to take a well-known store with tradition and essentially start over on the other side of the country, even if it's still the same customer-focused business it was in Colorado.

"There's no money in the music business anymore," said Wenzel, who along with his wife and daughter are the only employees and instructors at Alchemy Music. "The only money is in teaching and repairs. People will go on the Internet and buy something [rather than buy it in a store]. You've got to find your niche and what works for you.

"You kind of take chances sometimes."

A chance is what the Wenzels and Alchemy Music needed, as John Wenzel said it was "kind of stagnant" in Colorado despite the fact that the business, which rents instruments and equipment and has rent-to-own programs, boasted 150 students each week.

Wenzel has already been in communication with local school districts, though, and expects to be the go-to band instrument supplier for Seacoast students in the fall. Summer is typically slow for music shops, but the Wenzels also decided to incorporate their other Colorado business, a Celtic gift shop, into Alchemy Music during the move to Hampton.

"The gift shop business booms this time of year" thanks to festivals, shows and tourism, said Wenzel. "The Celtic items keep us going through the summer when music is dead."

Alchemy Music, which doesn't carry used instruments, is about 1,000 square feet and offers acoustic and electric guitar, drum, piano and violin lessons to students and musicians of all ages. Two of the three lesson studios are still in-construction, and Wenzel said he expects to add a large shipment of brass and woodwind instruments and guitar amplifiers to his inventory, which also includes cellos and other string instruments, in the upcoming weeks and months.

Until then, Wenzel said he'll continue to get comfortable here on the Seacoast and work his way into the close-knit downtown Hampton community.

"We're here, and we're doing what we've been doing for decades," said Wenzel, who now lives off Bow Lake in Strafford. "We're going to keep at it. I hope this is our last move, and I hope the community supports it."

More information about Alchemy Music, located at 28 Depot Square, can be found on its website.

Alchemy Music Center

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