One Of LA's Oldest Guitar Shops Is Hurting — Like Most Music Businesses

Candelas has been making guitars in Boyle Heights since 1947, but the coronavirus pandemic has hurt business since many customers are out of work. (Photos courtesy of Candelas Guitars)

Tomás Delgado's family has been making guitars in Los Angeles for three generations. Customers have been coming to their Boyle Heights shop, Candelas Guitars, since 1947. It's origins stretch back to 1928 in Juarez, Mexico, where his grandfather first opened a store, which eventually served some of Mexico's most famous musicians.

Today, Candelas' clients include many gig musicians who come to the store to buy strings and accessories, or to get their guitars repaired. But six weeks ago, the coronavirus pandemic forced the shop to shut its doors.

"All of that is gone. We don't have any walk-in business, very few phone calls," Delgado says. "It's definitely affected the day-to-day operations and I had to give my employees some time off. The things that are keeping me busy right now are the custom orders that I have on backlog."

L.A.'s music industry has been badly hit by the coronoavirus quarantine. Many of Candelas customers, like Stephanie Amaro, are suddenly out of work. More than two-thirds of her work consists of playing to live crowds.

"Any kind of gathering is completely forbidden right now, which means no live performance," she says. "All of the concerts scheduled for the summer, and for the spring, and wedding season, actually, is canceled."

The cancelations have had a ripple effect. Delgado says he'll never be able to recover the daily income he has lost over the past few weeks.

"Hopefully, our district, our council, our local government will help us out," he says. "We've been around 92 years. In the 30 years that I've been here, my grandpa, my dad, made me promise that I would keep the hours and keep the business going. But this time, it's going to have long-term effects on my small business and I'm sure everybody else's."

Jacob Hernandez also feels the pain. He's the owner of Guadalupe Custom Strings in East L.A., not far from Candelas. It's a one-room manufacturing shop with one part-time employee who sells strings to all kinds of musicians, music stores and school music programs. Right now, he's focused on saving money.

"We're trying not to buy material right now, just trying not spend money, because we know that there's not a lot of money that's going to be coming in," he says. "The stores are closed and the mariachis and the street musicians aren't playing, and no one is in school right now. So all of our bases is without work right now."

At Candelas, Delgado said the crisis has forced him to focus on other aspects of the shop. He's building more classical and flamenco guitars, and he's doing more restoration work. To generate income, he's also offering guitar lessons online.

"That's helping a little bit, " he says. "We're hoping that will pick up and help sustain us thru the next couple months."

He applied for assistance from the Small Business Administration and is also seeking aid for the non-profit he started, Candelas Music & Arts Foundation.

"It will be interesting to see how much value is placed on small businesses," Delgado say, "and how much additional responsibility is placed on the owners, for them to survive and to qualify for some of these grants."

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