Acoustic Corner sells to longtime customer

Barbara Hootman

On April 2, Joe Friddle, the retired pastor of First Christian Church in Black Mountain, will become the new owner of Acoustic Corner. One of the two current owners, Stephanie Wilds, will stay on staff for up to a year to help with the transition.

Wilds and co-owner Tom Fellenbaum birthed the business in 2000. Acoustic Corner has grown in inventory, programs and community involvement. From the start only handmade or well-made instruments were stocked. Fellenbaum and Wilds believed the area needed a music store that catered to acoustic music, especially the old-time, Celtic and folk styles. They stocked instruments and accessories that filled those needs.

“It has been important to find the right person with a similar vision to sell the business to,” Wilds said. “We love Acoustic Corner and are really happy to pass it along to Joe, who is a perfect fit. He is a local person interested in growing young new musicians, and he cares about all the things that Tom and I care about for the business. We started seriously talking about selling the business late summer .”

David Zoll, Acoustic Corner’s showroom manager since 2006, is pleased about Friddle becoming the new owner.

“Tom and Stephanie have made a landmark business in Black Mountain and are like family to me,” Zoll said. “I can not think of anyone who fits the same mindset, demeanor, and love of music more than Joe. He’s been here a few months already and is a great guy and a pleasure to work with. So, as my dad says, things here will be ‘the same but different.’”

Friddle is no stranger to music, since it has been an important part of his life.

“I grew up in the Piedmont area in a family that loved traditional music,” Friddle said. “We moved here in 1996, and my sons loved music, so we took lessons and bought instruments at Acoustic Corner. I’ve been a customer since it opened.”

Fellenbaum has been building instruments since 1974 while he was a student at Warren Wilson College. He graduated in 1975 with a degree in economics, but the Appalachian studies program there changed his life and started him on the path of making musical instruments. He has been a member of the Southern Highland Craft Guild since 1979, the same year he opened his first shop in Black Mountain, the Fellenbaum Dulcimer Workshop. He recorded two albums, “The Strayaway Child” and “Heartdance” with musical partner Jerry Read Smith in 1981 and 1986. Since 1998 he has co-hosted a Celtic music show on Public Radio Station WNCW-FM 88.7 called “Celtic Winds.”

Wilds managed Acoustic Corner while Tom operated Fellenbaum Stringed Instruments next door. He will continue to make custom-made instruments in a workshop in Old Fort.

“We have built Tom a building that he doesn’t have to share with anybody in Old Fort,” Wilds said. “When he moves from the space next door (in Black Mountain), that will open up a lot more room for Acoustic Corner to expand.”

“We don’t know exactly what changes we will make inside Acoustic Corner yet, but we will work all that out as we go along,” Friddle said. “There is a large instrument rental program that probably could use more space.”

“We have 180 instruments rented right now, mostly violins,” Wilds said. “I have more work on violins than I can handle. We also have rooms that we rent out for very small fees so teachers have a space to teach music.”

Banjoist Billy Presnell joined the Acoustic Corner staff as a part-time sales associate in summer 2015. He looks forward to remaining on staff when Friddle becomes the new owner.

“I am without a doubt excited about the future of Acoustic Corner,” he said. “I am equally excited for Tom and Stephanie’s future outside of the store. I have learned an incredible amount while being here under the tutelage of Tom and Stephanie both and cannot express how thankful I am to them for such. Having Joe Friddle at the helm of Acoustic Corner is going to be great, and I am looking forward to the future of the shop and its place in the Black Mountain community. While we will miss Tom and Stephanie, we are happy that they are getting to move forward in the next chapter of their lives.”

Wilds and Fellenbaum have supported numerous programs in the Valley, and Friddle looks forward to continuing the community involvement.

Acoustic Corner has encouraged music-making not only with cash contributions and in-kind contributions, but also with event participation. Some favorite programs include Youth Scholarship Fund, The Swannanoa Gathering, Black Mountain Recreation and Parks’ “Park Rhythms” concert series, LEAF in Schools and Streets, Junior Appalachian Musicians (JAM), Joyful Noise Community Music and Arts Center, Blue Ridge Orchestra, Asheville’s Independent Arts and Music, Swannanoa Library’s Groovin’ on Grovemont concert series and Chimney Rock State Parks Music on the Mountain concert series.

“My real education about Acoustic Corner starts on April 2 when I officially become the new owner,” Friddle said. “All of us appreciate the continued support of our music-loving customers. We will continue to offer the same high-quality instruments that discerning musicians expect.”