By John Boyle, avlwatchdog.org
When Frank Dosier was 16 and attending Asheville High, he had no intention of becoming a pillar of the local music scene. He was thinking engineering, or maybe law, would make a nice career.
But he was young and simply needed a job, and his only experience was cutting grass in the summers. He couldn’t even drive yet. One day after his mom had picked him up from school, she noticed a sparkling drum set on prominent display at Moritz Music on Merrimon Avenue.
Frank played trumpet and French horn and had a passion for music. Suddenly, mom had an employment idea for her boy.
“So she took me home and made me clean up and put on nice clothes, and she brought me back and dropped me off at that door and said, ‘You go talk to him,’” Dosier said, referring to John Moritz, the owner. “I was 16 years old, and he hired me.”
It was not quite the financial windfall young Frank had envisioned.
“I was making less than minimum wage, and that hurt my feelings — a lot,” Dosier said with a laugh. “I made $1.10 an hour, and minimum wage was $1.25. And then you get your first paycheck after they take out taxes and Social Security…”
In the end it worked out just fine. More than five decades later, Dosier, now 72, and his wife, Becky, 70, are ready to sell the business, which they renamed Musician’s Workshop long, long ago. The couple bought the business in 1977 and over almost a half-century transformed it into a community hub for generations of professional musicians, amateurs, and music lovers in general.
That includes me. I’m a terrible guitar player, but I love visiting this store and dreaming about owning some of these gorgeous instruments.
The news that the Dosiers plan to shut down the business and retire at the end of the year hit the local music scene hard. Besides selling fantastic Taylor acoustic guitars and an array of other acoustic and electric guitars, drums and associated gear, the Dosiers have indeed become pillars of the local music industry — and one of the few remaining locally owned music stores around here.
‘You changed the trajectory of my life’
After a Facebook video broke the news mid-month, the tributes for the beloved store — and the Dosiers — poured in. Well-known local singer-songwriter Andrew Scotchie was among those offering personal stories about their connections to the shop.
“Musician’s Workshop was where I started lessons at age 10 and years later, it was my first on the clock job,” Scotchie wrote. “It’s where I got my first Fender amp and Telecaster [guitar]. Frank, Becky, Brian and the entire crew have been so good to me and the Asheville scene in general. I will miss this staple of our town.”
Another professional musician, Anne Coombs, 69, said she got her first teaching job at Musician’s Workshop.
“You changed the trajectory of my life with that opportunity as well as the lives of others in so many wonderful ways,” Coombs wrote. “I am forever grateful.”
In a followup phone interview, Coombs said she started teaching at Musician’s Workshop in the mid-1990s, which inspired her to start Asheville’s first community music school. The Dosiers have known and supported just about every music act in town, Coombs said.
Even recently, when Coombs came into town to play a gig, she stopped by Musician’s Workshop to get a guitar restrung.
“I don’t know any other way to explain it except to say, you walk in and you know you’ll be taken care of — and you feel like you’re home,” Coombs told me. “They know you and they know what musical projects you’re working on. They’re just very accommodating.”
The Dosiers are Asheville natives — Frank grew up in North Asheville, Becky in West Asheville — who met while students at UNC Asheville. While Becky was ready to retire and spend more time with their two young grandchildren five years ago, Frank has been more reluctant to make the leap.
“My thing I’ve said for so long is every 50 years you ought to try something new,” Frank said with a laugh. “Except that I missed it — this is 56 years.”
Trying something new does not apply to their marriage, by the way. The Dosiers will be married 50 years in August, and they say working together has been “great.”
It helped that they ran the business well between them and didn’t end up with disputes.
“If we ran it poorly, it would just be a horrible burden, all day, all night,” Frank said.
In short, no one has smashed any guitars. About the only source of tension has been Becky’s desire to get the retirement train rolling.
“She was very patient in the fact that I didn’t buy into retiring and leaving a long time ago,” Frank said. “Because this is her store — she’s equal. But I’ve been here longer, and I grew up in music, and I grew up playing music in high school and with all kinds of people that are still around.”
In short, it’s been tough to leave.
Heart attack in 2020 played a role, too
Sitting in their Taylor guitar display room last Tuesday, Frank noted that this is exactly where he started working all those years ago, cleaning up and doing odd jobs. The room later became a small studio, then his office for designing sound systems for homes and local churches.
The Dosiers embarked on a major renovation in the late 1980s, with an eye toward displaying the guitars, mandolins, and basses down low, where musicians can see them eye to eye and pick them up if they like.
“Musicians don’t take in through their eyes,” said Becky, who earned a psychology degree from UNCA. “They take in through the feel and through their ears — and you’ve got to have it where they can get to it, and feel it and see it and understand it.”
While they certainly don’t have to explain the psychology of deciding to retire, the Dosiers have a very solid reason for making the decision now: Frank would like to remain alive.
Asked why he made the move this year, he answered without hesitation.
“Because she would shoot me,” he said with a laugh. “She was ready sooner.”
“I want to move to Raleigh to be with my grandkids,” Becky explained. “They’re 6 and 8.”
That would be Edgar and Eleanor.
The Dosiers’ sons, Michael and Keary, went to N.C. State and are entrenched in Raleigh. “We just need to get down there,” Frank said. “Time’s getting away.”
Business remains solid, but the couple, like all retailers, had to weather the pandemic, getting creative to stay in business. With so many people trapped indoors and looking for safe, at-home activities, instrument sales surged.
At the beginning of the pandemic, they closed down their once-thriving custom sound system installation business, which at one point included two crews and two service vans to meet demand for home theater systems, church sound systems, and other uses. The Dosiers sold that end of the business to their top installer.
They have four employees now, the lowest they’ve ever had, and had reached 10 employees when the sound system installation business was running at full tilt.
In those early pandemic days, they concentrated on musical instrument sales, which had tremendous demand. Adapting on the fly, in early 2020 the Dosiers set up a curbside service at their store — and it boomed. Frank said customers would call and literally say, “Just pick me out a nice $300 guitar, and I’ll buy it.”
For a couple of months, they both ran ragged. In Frank’s case, a little too ragged.
On the morning of June 1, 2020, after six straight weeks of working, Frank had a heart attack. He got a stent implanted and is well now, but it was a wakeup call.
“It was, because I told him, I said, ‘If you leave me with this mess I’ll shoot you,” Becky said with a laugh.
No business buyer lined up
They will close the store at the end of the year, and they plan to sell the 5,600-square-foot building at 319 Merrimon, as well as their North Asheville home. While they’d love for someone to keep serving the generations of customers they’ve cultivated here, the Dosiers have not been able to find a buyer for the business.
“We’d love to sell the store and walk away and let somebody else pick it up,” Frank said. “We got such great — I mean great, great — employees. It hurts me more than anything that I don’t have a place to send them or hand them off to someone else.”
The Dosiers have talked to a few potential buyers, but they haven’t found anyone with the necessary business acumen and financial backing to pull it off. The building represents their retirement fund, so they don’t want to finance a purchase for someone else.
“We have been around and around, and a lot of people think that you can just buy a business, and basically it just takes off and suddenly you’re rich,” Frank said. “No, you got to drive this thing, you’ve got to push it, you have to make it work.”
He knows about working the business. After they married in August 1974, Becky worked professionally as a social worker for Head Start, before officially joining the business in 1978, although she’d been working some with Frank before that.
In those early days, Frank worked the sales floor during the day, then handled repairs, invoices, and bookkeeping at night. While he had picked up a little guitar in addition to the horns, Frank’s own music career took a back seat to the business not only because of the enormous time commitment but also because he quickly discovered he was being asked to play in various bands in part because of his connection to all that sweet musical equipment.
He still toys with the idea of getting back to playing music, especially now that he will be retiring.
“Whether it ever happens or not, it doesn’t matter — it has been such a good ride,” he said. “I have no regrets at all.”
When Becky came on board, she took over the bookkeeping, much to Frank’s relief. Becky still does all the accounting, as well as the hiring.
The Dosiers say the business has remained steady over the years, in part because of an incredibly loyal customer base. But the market has changed, and not just because mega-chain Guitar Center came to town a few years ago, offering direct retail competition.
“We were doing OK,” Frank said. “[But] it’s gotten harder all the time because of the internet. The fact that we’ve got a big national chain store in town added more pressure, but…they’ve got a lot of the same pressures that we do. They’re just bigger.”
“We used to be the place that you went to find out what’s new in the business,” he said. “Now, there’s no reason to go to a trade show because all our customers already figured it out.”
They’ve made a point to remain cautious in business and honest in their dealings with suppliers, employees, and customers.
Brian Dumas, who worked for the Dosiers for 16 years, started out in percussion and has worked his way up to sales floor manager. While Dumas allows that he’ll have to turn the next chapter himself because of the Dosiers’ decision to close, he doesn’t begrudge them a well-earned retirement.
“They think about their staff, and they think about the customers — and they try to not just think about what we need to do tomorrow but what’s the plan for the incoming holidays?” Dumas said. “They treat me well.”
Dumas joined the store right out of college, and he’s seen firsthand the thread of continuity that has kept Musician’s Workshop rolling all these years.
“These kids would be coming in for lessons, and here we are many, many moons later and they’re bringing their kids in,” Dumas said. “And they’re saying, ‘This is where I bought my first guitar. This is where I took my first lesson.”
The Dosiers feel those threads every day. They raised their two sons here, and Becky said they have a tight circle of friends. So leaving the mountains will be heart-wrenching, although they plan to visit often, and selling the building likely will take a year or more, meaning they’ll be back on occasion.
But they both are OK with the big transition. I asked them if they’re sad to shut it all down.
“For me, only that we didn’t have somebody to step up and take it and go,” Frank said.
Becky pointed out that she’d been through a similar situation with her family’s business.
“My grandfather was the oldest business in the Grove Arcade — Waechter’s Silk Shop,” she said, referring to John Waechter. She helped shut that down before joining Musician’s Workshop full-time.
Like that silk shop, Musician’s Workshop also cultivated scores of customers through generations. It’s a strong community tie, and that’s hard to break.
Tommy Davis, a solo artist who plays guitar and bass, says his history at the shop goes back to the Moritz Music days. In the early ‘80s he took some lessons and did some recording at the shop, in what is now the Taylor guitar showroom.
Davis bought a Taylor guitar at the shop — that high-end brand became one of the hallmarks Musician’s Workshop is best known for — and has had it serviced there over the years.
Back in the ‘80s, Davis said, he also jammed with legendary rock guitarist and Asheville native Warren Haynes at the shop, though Davis chuckles about not knowing who Haynes was at the time. Haynes was playing lead for David Allan Coe’s band then and had stopped in Musician’s Workshop for an impromptu jam session with a store employee, who happened to be Davis’ teacher.
“I play bass too, and I said, ‘Could I take a bass in there and jam with them?’” Davis said. “They said, ‘Sure.’ We jammed on a 15-minute bluesy thing. People began gathering around. I was like, ‘I know who Greg, my guitar teacher, is, but I don’t know who this long-haired guy is who’s just smokin’ it.’”
That was Haynes, who went on to play for the Allman Brothers and then formed his own band, Gov’t Mule. He also hosts the annual Christmas Jam in Asheville.
Besides that fond memory, Davis said he also has many good memories of the Dosiers and their staff just being friendly and making people feel comfortable. He too hates to see them close.
“It will be a loss for the small, individually owned retailer and service center for musicians in Asheville,” Davis said. “Now I guess the only choice, for Asheville anyway, is the corporate-owned megacenters. That’s kind of sad, losing a little bit of its personal touch.”
As I know the guitar aficionados out there will want to know, those Taylor acoustics are not on sale yet. All the accessories in the store are 20 percent off, and I spotted a couple of nice guitars that were reduced, but Frank says they have not fully decided on instrument discounts yet.
“We’ve never done this before,” he said. “We’ve never closed out a business, so we’re winging it.”
Godspeed, Frank and Becky!
Asheville Watchdog is a nonprofit news team producing stories that matter to Asheville and surrounding communities. John Boyle has been covering Western North Carolina since the 20th century. You can reach him at (828) 337-0941, or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.