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Walking the streets of downtown Springfield, a person is likely to pass by vacant lots—buildings that have seen vendors and owners come and go over the generations. However, one business has adapted and survived through changing times—and four generations later, it’s still providing the same musical expertise it did a century ago. This year marks the 100th year for Hoover Music Company, located in downtown Springfield. For our ongoing local history series, Sense of Place, KSMU’s Rebekah Clark looks back at the impact the business has made on the Ozarks through music.
[Sound: music, violin strumming]
When you walk into Hoover Music Company, you see instruments hanging on the walls, making it easy for staff to do an impromptu demonstration for customers…or a reporter. In the back, Brian Hoover stands over a dusty table, repairing a violin bow. As owner of the company and great-grandson of its founder, Brian knows first-hand the role the store has played in equipping the Ozarks to make music.
“The store started in 1912 by my great-grandfather. It’s been in several locations. For many years it was on South Street, and that’s when that was the downtown area for Springfield.”
Before the move to South Street, Herbert Lee Hoover opened Hoover’s Music on McDaniel, after being the first Drury College graduate to get a degree in piano performance. The business sold band and orchestra instruments and guitars, and provided music lessons. During WWII, H.L. Hoover passed away and his son, Paul Hoover, took over the business. Shortly after he took over, there was a nationwide brass and copper shortage all the way through the Korean War. Since most of the instruments in the store were made of brass, Paul made drastic changes in his business to survive. Paul changed the name of the store to Hoover’s Music and Books, and sold greeting cards, records, appliances, electronics, and stringed instruments.
“You couldn’t make consumer goods; all those factories were making wartime items. You couldn’t make musical instruments, the War Production Bureau wouldn’t let you because they needed the copper for wiring and airplanes and things like that.”
After the war ended, the 50’s brought country music to Springfield, with a top ranked show, Ozark Jubilee. Stars of the show included Porter Wagoner and Brenda Lee. The popularity of the show continued through the 60s, when Paul changed the name of the store to Hoover Music Company Incorporated and moved the business to its current location on Jefferson Street. Paul expanded the company into the largest Lowery Piano dealer in the U.S. He also brought in top performers to be guest artists for the Springfield Symphony, including Clark Terry, Tommy Doresy, and Porter Wagoner. Paul’s outrageous personality helped give Hoover Music national recognition.
“My grandpa, like I said, was a huge personality, people knew him everywhere. At one of the national trade shows, back when Get Smart was a popular T.V. series, everyone wore a badge that said, ‘Would you believe…Paul Hoover!’ because he was so unbelievable and how big his personality was.”
Beginning in the late 70s and continuing into the 1990s, Hoover Music Company faced many challenges. Springfield’s downtown deteriorated with the development of the Battlefield Mall and the advent of “big box stores.” Hoover Music Company was one of the very few retail stores that remained downtown and survived. Jim Hoover, Paul’s son, took ownership of the company, and was forced to adapt to the changing local economy by focusing on customer service.
When Jim’s son Brian took over the family business in 2000, he hired people who were knowledgeable and wanted a long-term career at Hoover Music. Cherri Norton is one such employee who has worked with the Hoovers for many years. She started in college when Jim Hoover asked her if she wanted to teach cello.
“It’s the best job I’ve ever had. It’s like being a part of a family. They’re really good people, the Hoovers are really sweet, they always have been. It’s just a really good atmosphere to work, to be a musician, and get to work in your dream job. And to listen to good music most of the time.”
Most staff members at Hoover Music Company are highly skilled musicians. In fact, all of the music heard in this story was performed by different staff members at Hoover.
Brian Hoover says he plans to stay in business for as long as people value music.
“You know when you work at something for years and years and get better and better, that is a satisfying thing.”
[Sound: ending music]
For KSMU News, I’m Rebekah Clark.