Incurable optimist

Wendell Carpenter didn't know it at the time, but the months he spent as a Mormon missionary in the early 1960s provided him with invaluable business skills.

The experience taught a shy kid from a farm near Idaho Falls, Idaho, to knock on doors and make calls on folks who weren't expecting him.

And even more important, his mission taught the owner of Carpenter's Music World in Reno to keep going even in the face of disappointment.

"I'm an incurable optimist. I like people even the ones who don't like me," he says. "I've learned that the bad times may outnumber the good but the good will, by far, outweigh the bad," he says.

At his store next to Whole Foods Market at South Virginia Street and Neil Road, Carpenter works with a staff of six to sell and rent pianos everything from modest consoles to highly polished grands. Students take music lessons in private rooms in the back. Employees visit customers' homes to service pianos, and Carpenter still goes to some customers to provide tuning service.

But Carpenter's Music World is something more than a business for Carpenter. It's akin to a mission.

"I like repairs. I love teaching. I love selling. I love it all," says the 69-year-old, who has been a retailer of pianos and musical instruments in the Reno area for more than 40 years. "I've tried to provide a musical outlet for the community."

Carpenter found his personal musical outlet on the accordion he learned to play as a boy. He was good enough to play at community events around Idaho Falls, and he was good enough at age 16 to take over a teaching practice 20 students who paid $4 an hour to learn accordion techniques.

He won a music scholarship to Ricks College in Idaho at the time a two-year school and later earned a bachelor's degree in music at Brigham Young University. Along the way, he made the transition from accordion to piano.

Carpenter had worked in Provo, Utah, music stores before he learned in 1966 that Ferrell Ross was looking for someone to manage the music portion of Ross Photography and Music in Sparks. Two years after coming to Sparks, Carpenter borrowed $2,000 from his parents, bought out Ross and opened C&M Music

World with a partner at 19th Street and Prater Way. With distinctive awning painted as a keyboard, and even more distinctive displays of pianos out front, the store thrived for 18 years.

Confident in his abilities as a businessman, Carpenter in 1985 bought his partner's interest and moved the business to a bigger location on Rock Boulevard.

It flopped.

Within a decade, Carpenter had lost everything he'd built during his business career, and more. It took years to pay off the debts from the store.

"Being in business hasn't been all fun and games," he acknowledges.

In the current downturn, the store sees more rentals and fewer sales of pianos. Students often are more interested in less-expensive group lessons.

And in good times and bad, Carpenter's approach to business doesn't always make strict business sense.

Look at the time he spent a day driving to Tonopah and back just to solve a problem with a piano that a customer had purchased from his store a few days earlier. (Carpenter's Music World serves customers from Susanville to Tonopah to Elko.)

Or the handful of times that he's given away a piano simply because he thinks it's good for people to learn to play.

"It gives them a chance to learn music.

I think everyone should be able to play the piano, at least a little bit," he says. "You're making seven decisions a second when you're playing at an intermediate level."

Somehow, it all comes around in the end.

Carpenter recalls a time when sales were slow and money was tight. A woman on her way to a neighboring

store dropped into Carpenter's Music World, just to look around.

She decided she might want a piano. She moved up, one price range to the next. Finally, she decided on a $27,000 instrument a $27,000 impulse purchase.

When she called back the next day, Carpenter's heart sank. But the buyer had good news. Instead of financing the purchase, she wondered if she could pay cash.

The store got the sale. And Carpenter got another boost to his faith that things will turn out just fine.


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