July 20, 2010

Music store closes in Waterville

By Amy Calder acalder@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

WATERVILLE -- This time it's for good.

Al Corey Music Center is closed, with no hope of re-opening.

"Sorry Al Corey Music patrons -- I have tried everything in my power to keep this running," a note on the 99 Main St. storefront from owner Thomas Burns says. "I've lost everything. The store is closed permanently."

A mainstay in downtown for decades, the store was named after Al Corey, a music legend and a fixture on the area music scene for more than a half-century before he died in 2003 at 86.

A saxophonist and owner of the business, Corey led a band that performed classic swing tunes for thousands of people in Maine and beyond. He started "El Corey's Big Band" in 1946, but people at his first show called him "Al," and the group, "Al Corey's Big Band." The name stuck, even though his name was Elias J. Corey.

Music Center patrons expecting to visit the store Monday were stunned to see it was closed forever.

"I am so sad -- it's been here since I was a kid," said Debbie Massey, a summer resident of Oakland.

Massey stood on the sidewalk with her son, Chris Heimburger, who had hoped to buy valve oil for his trumpet, as well as guitar picks. They lingered a few moments after reading the note on the door, and then left.

Employees at the center resigned this spring to pursue other jobs. The store closed May 8 for re-staffing, according to a sign placed on the door at the time.

Burns, of West Roxbury, Mass., re-opened it a few weeks later with a new staff and the center advertised it was offering music lessons and looking for people to become members of a developing Al Corey Summer Youth Jazz Ensemble.

Richard Dort of Pittsfield was hired as the store's new manager; he announced that the building was to be remodeled, with lesson rooms to be renovated first. But shortly thereafter, he sent out an e-mail saying not enough people expressed interest in the youth ensemble, so the idea was scrapped.

A call to Burns at the store Monday was not returned.

On Monday, Faye Nicholson, executive director of the community group REM, got out of her van and read the message on the music center's door.

"Isn't that a shame?" she said. "Do you know, Al Corey was the very first REM Award winner? He'd be heartbroken. He worked his whole life to build that place. He loved, loved, loved children, and music was such a good way to communicate with children. He would come through my office like a tornado, with ideas."

Mae Beth Smart worked at Al Corey's for more than 25 years before leaving several weeks ago to work at Mike Davis Entertainment, a new music center that opened recently at 1 Post Office Square on Main Street. Part-time Corey workers Darcie Smart, Mae Beth's daughter, and Dan Knights, also left Corey's to work at Mike Davis Entertainment.

Mae Beth Smart said that Corey's closing is very sad and bittersweet.

"Those of us who knew and loved Al know that the store was just a name, that the spirit of the store was Al and the people who worked there," Smart said. "And that as sad as it is, Al will always be remembered for the personality he was -- the guy who was everyone's 'cousin,' or 'Uncle Al,' the man who made balloon dogs and could pull a quarter out of your ear."

Amy Calder -- 861-9247


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