Luthier to hang up his tools: After 53 years, Tony Creamer closing Fretted Instruments in Amherst this spring

Tony Creamer, owner of the Fretted Instrument Workshop in Amherst, works on a repair at the shop on Friday afternoon. Creamer plans to shutter his business this spring after more than 50 years.

Tony Creamer, owner of the Fretted Instrument Workshop in Amherst, works on a repair at the shop on Friday afternoon. Creamer plans to shutter his business this spring after more than 50 years. STAFF PHOTOs/CAROL LOLLIS

FAR LEFT: Violins hang from a rack at Fretted Instrument Workshop in Amherst, which will close on April 1.

FAR LEFT: Violins hang from a rack at Fretted Instrument Workshop in Amherst, which will close on April 1.

 Fretted Instrument Workshop in Amherst, owned by Tony Creamer, will be closing April 1st.

Fretted Instrument Workshop in Amherst, owned by Tony Creamer, will be closing April 1st. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Tony Creamer, owner of the Fretted Instrument Workshop in Amherst, shows Robin Harrington the guitar he recently repaired for her at the shop on Friday afternoon.

Tony Creamer, owner of the Fretted Instrument Workshop in Amherst, shows Robin Harrington the guitar he recently repaired for her at the shop on Friday afternoon. STAFF PHOTOS/CAROL LOLLIS

NEAR LEFT: Tony Creamer opened his first instrument workshop in 1971 and has included guitar repair among his services since then.

NEAR LEFT: Tony Creamer opened his first instrument workshop in 1971 and has included guitar repair among his services since then.

 Fretted Instrument Workshop in Amherst, owned by Tony Creamer, will be closing April 1st.

Fretted Instrument Workshop in Amherst, owned by Tony Creamer, will be closing April 1st. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Creamer works on a guitar repair last week.

Creamer works on a guitar repair last week.

 Fretted Instrument Workshop in Amherst, owned by Tony Creamer, will be closing April 1st.

Fretted Instrument Workshop in Amherst, owned by Tony Creamer, will be closing April 1st. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

Tony Creamer, owner of the Fretted Instrument Workshop in Amherst, works on a repair at the shop Friday afternoon, Feb. 16, 2024.

Tony Creamer, owner of the Fretted Instrument Workshop in Amherst, works on a repair at the shop Friday afternoon, Feb. 16, 2024. STAFF PHOTO/CAROL LOLLIS

By JAMES PENTLAND

Staff Writer

Published: 02-21-2024 6:31 PM

AMHERST — Tony Creamer began his career in luthiery upstairs at 49 South Pleasant St. in 1969, and he’ll be ending it there, too, when he closes the Fretted Instrument Workshop on April 1.

“I will have completed 53 years in business,” he said last week. “I’ve served my time.”

The business consists of 2,500 square feet of space, with 12-foot-high ceilings, where the musical and the curious can browse hundreds of fretted instruments — acoustic and electric guitars, mandolins, banjos, dobros and ukuleles of any vintage, with a separate room for violins, cellos and basses.

It’s not entirely by choice, though, that Creamer is closing what he said is now the oldest retail business in Amherst.

Owners of the former A.J. Hastings building, Mary Broll and Sharon Povinelli, along with developer Barry Roberts, have plans to renovate the entire building, leasing the ground floor to Amherst College for a store and bookshop and converting the second and third floors into high-end apartments.

An attached three-story brick building, which was used by Hastings for storage and is used by Creamer as a workshop, is set for demolition, as is a wood-frame building next to Hastings that used to house the Jeffery Amherst Bookshop.

In place of the brick building, a five-story block with elevators will rise.

While the Hastings building has historic significance, Creamer said, it’s not on the register of historic buildings. The second floor has been commercial space for 75 to 100 years, he said.

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“The whole block is 1881, because it burned in 1879,” he said.

It has been suggested, though, that the brick buildings at the rear, which escaped the fire and date to the 1840s, served as an early performance and meeting space.

It was many years later, in any event, that Creamer began learning the instrument building and repair trade in the space across the hallway from his shop’s longtime home. He opened his first business across town in 1971 and moved to the Hastings building the next year.

Since then, he has supplied instruments to customers from across the region and the country, as well as colleges, schools and music schools.

As time went on, he said he has found it increasingly difficult to do business in Amherst.

“It was a much more viable place to do business years ago,” he said.

The growth of the malls on Route 9 is one factor, and the university and colleges doing their best to provide students with all they need is another.

Besides, he said, young people don’t have any money.

“They haven’t had any money for a generation at least,” he said.

An old-time clawhammer banjo player himself, he built a few instruments over his career — and might build a few more in retirement — but the business focused mostly on sales and repairs.

“Repairs feed us and take up our time; sales pay the rent,” he said.

Up until recently, he had more than 800 instruments in his shop.

“I suspect I’m down to 650,” he said. “Instruments been leaving at an accelerated pace since November.”

He expects to sell them all before he closes, with some businesses expressing interest in bulk purchases.

While there are still a few instrument repair shops in the Valley, including violin specialist Stamell Stringed Instruments in Amherst, Creamer says there aren’t enough people doing repairs.

Ronald Meck of Shutesbury said he’s been a customer for at least 35 years. He bought his 1983 Martin MC-40, 150th anniversary edition, and he just recently picked up a Gibson J-45.

“It’s kind of a humbling experience to go in there and see a 1902 Martin on the wall,” Meck said. “It’s more than an institution — it’s a museum.”

Creamer has worked with independent repairmen over the years, and he said Tom Randall will continue to do repairs from his home.

As of March 1, Fretted Instrument Workshop, which is open Tuesday through Saturday, will be open by appointment only.

For now, Creamer is putting a positive spin on the idea of having more time to himself.

“I’ve heard that Saturdays are a really cool day, and I’d like to experience that,” he said.

James Pentland can be reached at jpentland@gazettenet.com.