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First Person


Cyle Talley

‘I just can’t get over how life is just a funny serendipitous thing.’

Tom Nading showed up in Telluride one day on a whim. Seven years later, he owns a guitar shop
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Courtesy of Tom Nading

Tom Nading playing a 1936 Martin D-18.
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Courtesy of Tom Nading

Tom Nading playing a 1936 Martin D-18.
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Courtesy of Tom Nading

Tom Nading (left) and business partner Ben, outside Telluride Music.
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Courtesy of Tom Nading

Tom Nading (left) and business partner Ben, outside Telluride Music.

I met Tom Nading several years ago at Telluride Music and struck up a friendship with him via our shared obsession with guitars. I ran into him at El Rancho during Bluegrass Meltdown weekend and he excitedly shared with me that he and a business partner recently purchased Telluride Music. I tell the story of how that purchase came about here, in his own words.

A couple of months before I graduated from college in 2010, I got an offer to sign a lease in Telluride. I’d never been here, though I’d skied a lot of Colorado and had always wanted to live in a ski town. I have a cousin in Avon and when I told him about the offer, he said, “Dude, there’s music, there’s so much going on – you’ve gotta go.” I took a leap of faith, signed the lease, and a couple of months later, I pulled into town. I figured I’d be bussing tables, so when I found out about Telluride Music, I called [then owners] Dave and Karen and talked to them on the phone, and they said, “Come by tomorrow, we’re here at 11.” I ended up walking by that night, and I saw all of the guitars through the window, and immediately thought, “I’ve got to do everything I can to get a job here. This is perfect.” I showed up the next morning in slacks and a button-down shirt – I think I even had a tie on – and did everything I could to convince Dave to hire me. This is still technically my first job outta college, and it’s been a really beautiful, serendipitous thing that life throws you. It’s almost seven years later and my business partner and I just recently took over.

We’re a small shop, and I’ve always done a little bit of everything: Running the counter, answering the phones, doing repairs, working on the website, purchase orders – typical small business. All of the mundane details that every business has to deal with are a bit sweeter for us because at the end of the day, it’s guitars, not life insurance policies.

Dave realized he was ready to sell the shop in the spring of 2015 and, at the time, I wasn’t really thinking about hanging around Telluride or about the opportunity that the shop presented. My business partner, Ben, approached me and I remember saying to him, “I don’t think that’s something that I really want to do.” About a year later, Ben approached me again, and at that point, the shop’d been through a couple of inquiries, and I realized that if Telluride Music was going to sustain, ultimately I was probably going to be asked to be a big part of that, which was pretty intimidating. But I began to think about how might I do things differently, and what changes I might implement that would help this place to thrive. Once I started brainstorming like that, thinking like an entrepreneur, I really sold myself on it. Ben and I put together a pretty extensive business plan, and we placed an offer with Dave in February. We closed April 14th.

The Monday morning after we finalized the sale was the first full day where it sorta hit me, “Wow. This is up to me now.” I had a laundry list of things to work on, and, for a minute, I felt overwhelmed. But then I remembered, “Wait, I’ve been doing this for the last seven years!”

I come from a long line of people who work for themselves. My dad got an MBA from Wake Forest, and was on the corporate fast track when he realized that it wasn’t at all what he wanted to do, and so he started a gourmet kitchenware store that’s been in business now for almost 35 years. It’s huge. They have over 100,000 SKU’s [items with barcodes]. Having parents who were in business for themselves, seeing the fulfillment that they got out of it, put the thought in the back of my head that maybe I could do something that I love, too. It’s a lot of stress and a lot of work, but when it’s something that you believe in and that you’re passionate about, it’s so worth doing.

We’re not in this to make tons of money, and we’re not in here to sell the hottest gear. We want to connect every player with an instrument that really inspires them. When I send somebody out with a guitar that I know is going to be a valuable and stimulating part of their life, I’m elated. When you really love guitars, each one brings different songs out and inspires you differently. Helping people chase, find, and harness that inspiration is the essence of what we do. We want to help the local musicians, whether they play in the bars or are just learning that first ukulele song, find that inspiration. It’s personal, too. Guitar Center is really boring. I truly believe that there are enough people who appreciate attention to detail and expertise and doing business with the person that they’re talking to. A lot of what we’re doing is the all-out fight against Amazon. We’ll do what we can. [laughs]

I’ve been crazy about the guitar since I first touched one when I was 10 years old, and I haven’t been able to get my hands off of ’em since. I love the look, the sound, the smell, the feel, the way that they bring songs out of me. It never really occurred to me until we put the offer in that this was something that I could do with my life. [laughs] It feels like an opportunity to be creative, to push myself, and to push my career. I just can’t get over how life is just a funny serendipitous thing. You move to a place like Telluride, thinking that you’re going to be there for a season, and seven years later, you end up owning a guitar shop. Pretty cool. [laughs]

Cyle Talley wonders when Mitch McConnell will finally reveal himself as the Antichrist. Email him at cyle@cyletalley.com, if you’re so inclined.