For four decades, musicians in northern New Brunswick have turned to Bert’s Music Shop for everything from guitar repairs to strings.
The store is a community staple, with a keyboard-painted storefront on Roseberry Street in downtown Campbellton.
Owner Bert LePage is the familiar face and repair expert who keeps customers coming through the doors. He is preparing for retirement but cannot find a buyer willing to take over the business.
“I was just a guitarist joining bands left and right, and that’s how it started,” he said.
As the region’s only full-service music store, Bert’s Music attracts customers who are up to two hours by car from other areas of New Brunswick and Quebec’s Gaspé Peninsula.
WATCH / Step inside Campbellton’s famous music store
The store is neatly packed with almost everything a musician needs. It sells acoustic and electric guitars, ukuleles, fiddles, mandolins, keyboards, and drums. There is also a shelf with dozens of music books and a choice of sound systems.
The wall behind the counter is covered with hanging packages of guitar strings.
There is a music school at the back of the building. It offers practice rooms and space for classes.
And behind the store there is a full workshop for repairing instruments.
An unexpected opportunity
Bert LePage never intended to open the largest music store in upstate New Brunswick.
He grew up in White’s Brook, a small community near Kedgwick.
He picked up the guitar at age 10 after being inspired by his sister. At 18 he joined his first band and toured the region.
LePage loved music, but he also studied electronics repair at Community College in Campbellton and did an apprenticeship at a local company. When the Ideal Service business came up for sale, he bought it with colleague Gerry Muholland.
Two years later, Campbellton’s only shop selling things like guitar strings and drumsticks burned to the ground and never reopened. LePage saw an opportunity.
He had joined a local rock band and began looking for a new source for musical supplies. He traveled to Montreal to buy keyboards and other equipment from a store.
“The guy sold me everything I needed so I could sell it back to the local musicians. So I started with drumsticks and guitar strings, the basic things that musicians need,” he said.
“It just kept rolling and getting bigger from there.”
Friendship with customers, employees
Bert’s Music began in the same building as the electronics store on Water Street.
Then, when a large building on nearby Roseberry Street came up for sale, he took the opportunity to expand. He added drums, amps, and electronics to the shelves in the new store.
He also bought equipment to do the sound for big summer events and festivals in the area with a team of four sound engineers.
Bert’s music certainly stands out. The side of the building is painted with music notes and a treble clef, while the front features a flashing, glowing guitar and keyboard design.
When the front door is opened, a guitar hanging above it strums, letting the staff know a customer has arrived.
LePage, now 69, said his client base has grown rapidly over the years through word of mouth.
“While you’re making the repairs, they might talk about their lives. It’s a friendship that’s built over the years with these clients,” he said.
Gerry Muholland, who has worked at the store from the start, said he will also miss the musicians who come to the store – and see Bert.
“In a small town like Campbellton, like all the associates we’ve had over the years, we were more friends than colleagues,” he said.
“It was fun the whole time. It’s fun to come to work.”
“He has the answer”
Marco Landry remembers becoming a customer at Bert’s Music for the first time when he was 15 and being drawn to all the guitars on display in the store. The 32-year-old teaches at the music school and helps out in the shop during the day.
“It was a store that was really accessible and you could easily try out guitars and things that were on display,” he said.
According to Landry, LePage brings a level of expertise to repairs that is rare these days with larger shops being reluctant to take on damaged guitars.
“He knows exactly where things break and he knows how to fix them properly. So to be able to have a question and ask him, ‘How do you fix this?’ and he has the answer — it’s pretty amazing,” he said.
The storefronts now display signs that the store is for sale.
LePage said time was running out and he was preparing to sell the inventory and building if he could not find a successor interested in running it.
“I’ve created a good audience and group of people who keep coming back,” he said.
“I’m glad it happened. I’ve enjoyed the last 40 years.”