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Tom McShane has had a lot of jobs in his lifetime – construction worker, carpenter, farmhand, biodiesel engineer, teacher, manager, performer, musician and more. But it was his love of music, his sense of community, and his family’s needs that led him to take the plunge into trying his hand at becoming a small business owner, despite the recent shaky and uncertain economy.
Hewn From the Mountain is a music shop in Crestwood, owned and operated by McShane, that will soon celebrate two years in business. At the shop, McShane offers instrument sales, repairs and rentals (orchestral and school band), as well as an extensive line of accessories and strings. He also gives lessons for violin, viola, guitar, dulcimer, folk harp, mandolin and beginning piano. And he continues to hand-make dulcimers, sometimes out of recycled materials like old violin cases, which was one of his first jobs as a young man.
“I learned all this at a shop in Vermont. There was a cabinet shop on the ground floor and a guitar shop upstairs,” McShane said. “That’s where I learned how to make instruments.”
McShane’s love and interest in music began at an early age when he was handed a violin. He transitioned to viola and was a member of the first graduating class of the Youth Performing Arts School in Louisville in 1981. He performed for a while, then traveled around the New England area, finally settling down in Virginia where he repaired and made instruments and gave lessons, but always through another business. After he and his wife celebrated the birth of their twins, which constituted children 8 and 9 of their brood, McShane decided to come back to Oldham County, where his parents had always lived.
“After 30 years of being away, I decided to come home and make a go of it,” McShane said. “I found a place in Crestwood, which when I was younger was barely an intersection. But I looked around and thought, wow, look what’s happening here. There’s been so much progress. I did some research on the area and the population trends and thought, I don’t want to start a business anywhere else. This is a great place to be.”
McShane found a location that had previously housed a Mexican grocery store. The owners had vacated the premises, leaving behind all their equipment, furnishings and inventory. The landlord agreed to allow McShane to rent the space and use whatever items had been left behind.
“They had left shelving and a cash register and lots of other stuff,” McShane said. “When you get set up with almost everything you need, it’s a great start.”
So McShane was able to open his business with a very low budget, and a friend with a successful business in Louisville helped him build up inventory. It was McShane’s first attempt at a bricks and mortar retail business. The venture has not been without significant challenges.
“It’s not quite putting the bread on the table yet, but we’re getting there,” McShane said. “All the research I’ve done says you have to devote 4 to 5 years to a business before you really start to see a return. You’ve got to really work your tail off when you’re starting a business.”
And McShane is doing all he can to ensure his business will succeed.
“The challenge is to make sure that you are continuing to grow at all times, and to find ways to educate the public about your shop, your services and your expertise,” McShane said. “Nine times out of ten, people come to the shop still and say they didn’t know I was here. Slowly but surely as people find me, I build my customer base, which helps me build my inventory.”
Future plans for Hewn From the Mountain include a large performance venue with food and drink, alongside the retail store because McShane wants to support local artists and create cultural opportunities for the community. He is a big proponent of supporting the local economy, and wants to run a shop full of unique, handmade items from local craftspeople and artisans.
And what advice does McShane have for others who are interested in opening their own businesses?
“You’ve got to know what you’re doing; use all your skills and experiences,” McShane said. “And diversify. You’ve got to have a lot of irons in the fire and know how to work those irons. And if you don’t know how to do it, find somebody who does.”
And to get through those hard days when no customers come in the door at all, McShane advocates sheer perseverance.
“Keep doing what you’re doing and eventually it will happen.”
Hewn From the Mountain is located at 5801 Veterans Parkway, #5, in Crestwood. McShane can be reached at (502) 275-9349. McShane performs at various local venues and with the Louisville Philharmonia Orchestra on viola. For more information, visit www.hewnfromthemountain.com.
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