By Emily Elconin
Old Town Lansing Times Staff Reporter
The arts play an important role in small neighborhood of Old Town. Elderly Instruments located at 1100 N. Washington Ave., plays a significant role in the development of the arts culture in Old Town. The power of art and music has helped create a sense of community for people in Old Town and people who are just visiting or passing through.
“Elderly has been a staple and anchor here in Old Town which has been really important because they’ve been here for a really long time,” Program Director for Michigan Institute of Contemporary Art Katrina Daniels said. “They are a really important cornerstone here in Old Town. Music is another form of art. It’s performative versus visual.”
Daniels thinks that Old Town is moving away from just gallery spaces and is beginning to see more performance-based art. Daniels thinks it’s really important to bring in all types of art into Old Town.
Communicators director for the Arts Council of Greater Lansing Dawn Gorman says there is a special community inside Elderly Instruments and people who go there go for that sense of feeling and community.
“It’s a large establishment that people have been going to for years and years, know everybody in there, and can feel a sense of community,” Gorman said.
Elderly draws in musicians from across the United States. Director of Guitar and String Studies at Indiana University-Purdue University-Fort Wayne Laura Lydy made a stop with her eight students at Elderly before they headed to Grand Rapids for a guitar festival.
“I wanted my students to see this place because it’s so unique. The building is unique and you really can’t go in many places where there’s 20 mandolins hanging on the wall and a whole room of banjos,” Lydy said. “The selection of acoustic instruments is exceptional.”
First curator of Cleveland’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and lecturer of American Culture at the University of Michigan Bruce Conforth has been coming to Elderly Instruments for years and has always enjoyed the comfort and sense of community inside the store.
“They have built an astonishing establishment here. I’ve been to a lot of other guitar shops and no place can match,” Conforth said. “The cool part about this place is that you can come in and play and nobody bothers you. The location of the store is perfect because you have to know it’s here to come here.”
An important aspect of Old Town is a growing sense of community. Elderly Instruments provides a vibrant and welcoming environment that helps people connect and share their love of the arts and music.
“They’ve created their own community there. Elderly Instruments provides a community inside that store and the people that go there go for that sense of feeling,” Gorman said. “It’s similar to people who go to Preuss Pets down here. It’s an establishment that’s really large that people have been going to for years and years who know everybody in there and can feel a sense of community.”
Most recently, Elderly Instruments drew a lot of attention to the Old Town area when Jennifer Springman, the niece of Old Town’s Elderly Instruments owner and founder Stan Werbin, painted a beautiful mural right outside of the store.
“The painting of that mural was a really big deal because it was growing the public art in our area. Everybody was just really excited to see it happen,” Gorman said, “That mural was an important event that happened with Elderly Instruments that drew attention to them again in a different way and connected them to the arts community in a different way. There’s the visual component and the musical component made visual.”
Elderly Instruments PR Specialist Lillian Werbin, Stan Werbin’s daughter, says when it comes to Old Town, Elderly’s has a really nice art support system.
“Over the summer, we are going to be a part of Arts Night Out which is put on by the Arts Council of Greater Lansing,” Lillian Werbin said. “Four times throughout the summer we will be sponsoring free concerts here at the store and local music. Just like the community supports us we try to support the community.”
Gorman says that Elderly Instruments has a really big connection to one of the festivals held in Old Town called the Mighty Uke Day Ukulele Festival. Gorman says the uke festival is in its sixth year and Elderly Instruments does a lot of workshops during the festival including learn how to make your own instrument and string the instrument.
“I think Old Town is big on art but we are pretty steady with keeping music relevant in the area. 15 to 20 years ago you wouldn’t have walked down the streets of Old Town in the dark,” Werbin said, “Now we have festivals in the streets in the summer and we just want to celebrate the people and our area.”
Lillian Werbin also says that festivals like the Mighty Uke Day Ukulele Festival helps Elderly Instruments brings in out-of-towners so they can explore the Old Town area.
“Old Town has such roots with the local market that they keep us relevant to those that may have forgotten,” Lillian Werbin said.
Gorman says Old Town is really supportive of the arts. Elderly Instruments is a huge draw for musicians she says.
“Elderly brings in other people that might not normally come into Old Town,” Gorman said, “This neighborhood is a little bit out of the way so having a place that is a draw for people will hopefully encourage people to stay and explore the neighborhood and support other independent businesses.”