JOHNSON CITY, Tenn (WJHL) — No one would have accused Don Campbell of being a gambling man.
But when he decided to open his own music store in downtown Johnson City in 1985, it was anything but a sure bet.
“A long time ago….it was sketchy downtown,” Dave Campbell said recalling the reality of downtown Johnson City where his father had set out to reopen the recently closed Morrell Music.
“He thought he could make a go of it, so he got to work,” Dave said.
The retired highway department employee had the perfect combination to make the dream happen. He had a deep love for music.
“He was a country music musician, and old country,” Dave said.
That’s handy for a music store owner, but it’s not enough to sustain a business. Dave thinks it was his dad’s love of people that kept the customers coming to Johnson City’s struggling downtown and shopping in his store.
“Everybody loved Dad,” Dave said. “He tried to be good to everybody and treat everyone the same.”
A few years later, Dave joined his dad in the family business where musicians from the beginners to the pros can take their time as they search for the perfect instrument.
“Most people want to hear the guitar and feel the guitar, so we rely on people coming into the store,” Dave said. “And so far it’s worked.”
Thousands of customers over the year have purchased instruments, sound systems, and music. Others come to Campbell’s Morrell Music for music lessons.
A few even used their purchases to attain stardom.
“Kenny Chesney bought a guitar from us when he was at ETSU,” Dave said.
Dave says his family’s business has had its share of challenges. They lost Don to cancer. And, at least four times, the business sustained catastrophic flooding when high water submerged much of Johnson City’s downtown.
Fortunately, those days are over. Johnson City launched a flood mitigation project, so businesses no longer flood when it rains downtown.
Dave Campbell says the change has been remarkable.
“It’s amazing to see all the people walking their dogs and going to bars,” he said. “It’s awesome. Just never believed it would happen.”
And he thinks his dad would love the changes outside his store’s front door and the fact that inside, the spirit of his business has remained the same.
“It’s not just a business relationship. It’s a friendship,” Dave said. “It was that way when Dad started. People felt comfortable with him and I think that’s carried over with all of us.”