Hoover Music Company was established in 1912 by Herbert Lee (H. L.) Hoover and is still under the proprietorship of the same family four generations later! We celebrate 100 years of providing musical instruments, accessories, printed music, repairs and lessons to Southwest Missouri.
H.L. Hoover was the first person to graduate from Drury College with a bachelor’s degree in piano performance. After graduation, H.L. Hoover started Little Hoover’s Big Band, which entertained Southwest Missouri for over twenty years. He also directed the Shriner’s Band, the Drury Band, and, in 1912, started Hoover’s Music on McDaniel Street.
Hoover’s Music sold band and orchestra instruments, guitars, and provided music lessons out of the McDaniel store for 25 years before they moved to South Avenue, where Systematic Savings and Loan is located today. The move to South Street, a prime location for any business on the booming city square, gave Hoover’s Music large window displays, a larger space to operate, and plenty of foot traffic. They added victrolas and radios to their inventory through RCA. That is why Hoover Music Company has one of the original promotional Nipper RCA dogs in the store. Hoover Music Company sold the first acoustic and first electric guitar in Southwest Missouri, and also sold the late Country Music Hall of Famer Porter Wagoner his first guitar.
In 1941, H.L. Hoover passed away and his son, Paul Hoover, took over Hoover’s Music. Shortly after Paul took over the store, there was a nation wide brass shortage toward the end of World War II, and even more so during the Korean War. Since the majority of band instruments are made with brass, Paul had to make changes to survive. He changed the name of his decades-old business to Hoover’s Music and Books, and sold greeting cards, records, appliances, electronics and stringed instruments to make up for the lack of brass instruments available at the time. As soon as the brass shortage was over, Paul bought the first school service vehicle, a 1948-1950 Chevy Panel Van and trailer. He introduced the delivery and repair pick-up system for schools in Southwest Missouri.
In the 1950s, Springfield became a mecca for country music, with the top ranked show, Ozark Jubilee, filmed just one street over from the store. The show starred such greats as Porter Wagoner and Brenda Lee.
In 1967, Paul Hoover did three major things to turn Hoover Music Company into the store it is today. He incorporated the 55 year old family business, changed the name to Hoover Music Company Incorporated, and moved the business to the current location at 440 S. Jefferson Ave. The grand opening of the new store was huge news all over the country. The Springfield papers did several stories on the move, and owners and CEO’s of all the major music companies and manufacturers in the United States wrote Paul congratulatory letters to mark the occasion. People lined Jefferson Street on opening day.
Paul Hoover turned Hoover Music Company into the largest Lowery Piano dealer in the United States. He did this, in-part, by offering a new and exciting way to pay for musical instruments. Paul Hoover introduced the rent-to-own program to Southwest Missouri in the 1950s. The plan allowed students to learn a musical instrument without a huge up-front investment or monetary commitment. Soon after offering this plan on pianos, Paul realized the plan would also work for band and orchestra instruments. Thus, a new method of getting instruments into the hands of beginners was born. Now, almost everyone who begins band or orchestra does so using a payment plan similar to the one started at Hoover Music Company all those years ago. Although, none are identical to the interest-free actual rent-to-own plan offered at Hoover Music Company. “We started it; We perfected it.”
While working hard to ensure that Hoover Music Company offered the best in customer service, product and selection to Southwest Missouri, Paul Hoover also brought top performers to be guest artists for the Springfield Symphony. The “Wall of Fame” in the back hall of Hoover Music Company has some of the signed press photos from such artists, but there are hundreds more in storage. These photos include greats such as Clark Terry, Tommy Dorsey, and Porter Wagoner. Wagoner signed the photo: “My best wishes to Hoover Music – you fellas sell the best guitar in town.”
In 1978, Paul relinquished his duties at Hoover Music Company to his sons Kenneth and James Hoover. Jim is a clarinetist who spent time in the National Guard Band, and has spent his entire life at Hoover Music Company. Kenny was a pianist, and was in the Marines for a time. Kenny passed away in January of 1999.
In the late ‘70s through the ‘90s, Hoover Music Company faced two major challenges. The downtown area became somewhat of a “ghost town” with the development of the Battlefield Mall and the city-wide push to drive business to the newest retail investment, and “big box stores” and national chain Stores moved into the Springfield area.
Hoover Music Company was one of the very few retail stores to remain in the downtown area and survive. Sacrifices had to be made, so Jim cut back on school service routes and the number of employees to focus on in-house service, repairs and the lesson program. Most Springfieldians know Jim Hoover as the sweet, quiet man who cared more about good customer service and quality of products than almost anyone else in town. That is why Hoover Music survived in such tough economic conditions.
Jim knew that to stay in business you have to be willing to adapt to the economic climate. He inherited the business that sold the first victrola, record player, radio, television, and VCR in consumer electronics, but he knew that he could no longer compete with the national chain stores. He closed the electronics department at Hoover Music, and eventually stopped selling records as well. Mail order catalogs, internet shopping and national chains who focus on musical instruments were also a potential challenge to a small music retail business, but Jim found that personal customer service and the ability to try before you buy are services still valued in the music community.
In 2000, James (Brian) Hoover, the current president and fourth-generation Hoover, took over ownership of Hoover Music Company. Brian took over the stringed instrument repair duties from his father as well, and has developed into the most trusted repairman in the area. Throughout the twelve years Brian has controlled the business, he has changed and developed several programs that were much needed in today’s music education environment. Brian saw the need in helping to fund music education in schools, and became a Partner in Education. He revamped the rent-to-own program to be free of interest charges and re-implemented the school service representatives, a program has grown immensely over the past four years.
Brian also saw the value in having vested employees who were very knowledgeable in their field. He added great employee benefits to attract potential long-term employees who would care about Hoover Music and the customers we serve, and who were respected in the musical community for their expertise. Brian re-vamped the lesson program and the clinician program and is proud to say that the group of private educators at Hoover Music Company is unmatched in quality and experience in the Southwest Missouri Area.
We are proud to say that we are celebrating our 100th year in business. We couldn’t have made it this far without our customers, so thank you. We hope to continue serving you throughout the years!
Hoover Music answers a few questions about starting and owning a business downtown.
What drew you to Downtown?
It was over a round of phosphates and that the founders of Hoover Music chose their downtown South Street location in 1912. Much thought was given to exactly where they would put the shop: Proximity to the cod liver oil dispensary was a plus, though being two entire blocks from the square was considered “quite out a fer piece” from the center of town. Some thought was given to a location south of Sunshine or east of Glenstone, but given that that trip would be the better part of a day by wagon on roads that didn’t yet exist, and the high risk of dysentery that came with it, it was decided a downtown location was safest.
What unique products and services do you offer?
Hoover Music Company is a full-line music store. We have instruments, accessories, lessons and repairs on location. We have the largest printed music department in Southern Missouri. We also take pride in exclusively hiring established musicians with performance and education experience for our sales positions in order to ensure our customer service is the best in Springfield.
How do you cross-promote fellow Downtown businesses?
We cross-promote downtown businesses by hanging posters and handing out flyers like most other downtown businesses. However, we take additional steps by promoting downtown businesses to our customers by using their products for prizes and giveaways at all of our events. We have also handed out coupons for downtown businesses to customers during our busiest times of the year.
What is your vision for Downtown and your store over the next three years?
I see a successful Downtown Springfield with added retail that caters to the collegiate community more than it has in the past. Retail that offers even more clothing, shoes and accessories as well as affordable basic needs for dorm and apartment living. I see stores that draw customers from all sections of the city and beyond due to their unique and artsy offerings because they work together to target customers to a true shopping district rather than simply one store. I see a shopping district where residents are excited to bring visitors on a day trip.
What can Springfieldians do to help your business?
First of all, get interested in music and get your family interested in music. You do not have to commit to becoming a professional musician to enjoy music, you just need to give it a chance. Most people who play musical instruments do so for fun rather than for money. It is beneficial to cognitive learning and sustaining of cognitive skills and it is also beneficial for stress relief.
Second of all, don’t purchase toys in the shape of musical instruments and expect success. If you or your child wanted to play baseball, you wouldn’t send them to practice with a waffle-ball bat in order to save money until you found out whether or not they really like it. You simply can’t use a plastic bat to hit a baseball, and you can’t learn to play a musical instrument using a toy. You can’t even learn the basics of playing a musical instrument using a toy. Use the same philosophy when choosing a student instrument. Student instruments are absolutely less costly than professional instruments, many can be rented rather than purchased outright and the instruments that cannot be rented are very affordable. Give your music store a chance-we even have layaway.
Lastly, shop local. Purchasing an instrument is not the same as purchasing reeds or a lamp. Every instrument is different and every instrument needs to be setup from time to time. You need someone, who truly knows what they are doing, to ensure the instrument is in good playing condition. Local music stores have the ability to return instruments to the manufacturer when there are problems. Some of these problems are not easy to spot, but a repair technician can spot them. Most online retailers hope you can’t tell there is a problem until the return period is over, while a local store would likely catch the problem and keep the instrument from hitting the sales floor in the first place.