BATAVIA – Before Thomas Stading's Instrument Exchange in downtown Batavia became a go-to destination for guitars, drums and band and orchestra instruments both new and used, it was the love of antiques that launched him in the retail business.
There was already an established antiques store in town at 8 E. Wilson St. with which Stading and his late wife established a relationship and sold various vintage pieces.
"My first instrument I sold out of the house to a little girl … who was so happy," he said of the clarinet her family bought. "That was fun and enjoyable. That summer, I picked up seven instruments and I went and rented a 10-by-10 space [in the antiques shop]. I put a sign on the back of it – Instrument Exchange."
Originally, it was a part-time enterprise, but Stading said he would talk to people and ask if they had instruments they wanted to get rid of and he would keep acquiring more until he grew their fledgling business to about seven spaces in the antiques shop.
He eventually acquired the store and focused it on instruments, while continuing to sell antiques in a nearby Batavia location. He and his wife kept their hand in the antiques market for years, renting space at various locations including in Galena.
The Instrument Exchange moved to 17 N. River St. in Batavia about seven years ago and celebrated 25 years in business in 2017.
When it comes to instruments, Stading said most of the time, people want to get a major brand in used condition so they can get it at half the price.
"It's a fun store for somebody … to walk through and enjoy," Stading said. "People coming in from different towns [to visit] one of the restaurants … get a kick out of walking into [an] old type music store like you'd see years ago."
Its web presence has spread its reputation across the region and to customers as far away as Wisconsin, Indiana and beyond.
One of Stading's specialties is the trumpet and he has 150 in stock at the moment.
"I just enjoy selling them," he said. "I studied them. I read books on different trumpets, all the different companies. It's fun and interesting. My oldest would be in the 1930s. I like to keep them more [from the] '60s, '70s, '80s.
"We do a lot of different instruments – banjos, mandolin, ukulele," he said. "We do a good variety of instruments. A lot of stores don't have everything like that."
The shop offers sheet music and instrument cleaning and repairs. Stading works on bridges for cellos and violins himself.
"A lot of time people can't figure out how to put strings on; I try to be helpful to people and they turn around and pass the word on to other people," he said about holding onto the old mom-and-pop business traditions of service.
"I enjoy the business and enjoy talking to people," he said.
Lessons are another specialty at Instrument Exchange. All of them are individual so the instructor can slow down or speed up to the student's learning level, Stading said. He has opened career doors for many instructors over the years.
"We don't do drum lessons – or bagpipes," Stading said, noting they cover just about everything else.
The former drummer said it's because the decibel level isn't conducive to the remainder of the business being conducted in the multistory space.
The building long ago housed horses, Stading said, adding it went on to become a political call center and an architect's office among its uses.
He said the morning light lends a beautiful glow to the interior. People can check it out on Saturdays, the only early hours it's open, which coincides with the Batavia Farmers' Market. Stading arranges for the musicians who entertain outside during the market and collect tips for their artistry.
Instrument Exchange hours are noon to 8 p.m. Monday and Tuesday; 2:30 to 8 p.m. Wednesday through Friday; and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday. For more information, call 630-879-2815 or visit chicagoinstrumentexchange.com.