Every college town needs at least one music store. Thanks to Oxford local, Miami alum Johnny Helfinstine and his wife Shelley, students finally have a place to shop for all of their musical needs-as long as they can figure out how to find it.
Appropriately named, Off The Beaten Path (OTBP) is located at 119 ½ A West High St., just down the alley before the scuba store across from the courthouse.
The couple bought the 350 square-foot sales floor in June, after it sat vacant for two years. Six coats of paint later, OTBP opened on Aug. 15.
But according to Johnny, the store is not named for its alley location. In fact, the two had decided on a name long before purchasing the property.
“Our stuff is what’s ‘off the beaten path,'” Johnny said.
Some of the antique furniture the couple displays their inventory on was specifically purchased with the store in mind. The cash register counter is a converted hostess station from an old Max & Erma’s restaurant Johnny found online.
“The interior design [of the store] really reflects both our personalities,” he said. “We’re kind of outdoorsy. We like old houses and cool stuff.”
Johnny’s philosophy isn’t limited to just music. Neither is his inventory.
“The music stuff is my gig,” Johnny said. “My wife sells all the art, pottery and home decor. It’s 50/50 between the music and art items.”
Much of the jewelry, pottery, baskets, candles, greeting cards and stained glass for sale at OTBP are hand-made, placed on consignment exclusively from local artists and potters. These artists typically come in on Saturdays to sell their items to the Helfinstines.
For example, OTBP buys most of the candles from Olde Oxford Station. Made using essential oils, these soy-based candles burn longer and don’t soot up houses versus ones made from traditional beeswax.
In addition to the consignment items for sale, Shelley makes and sells cotton fabric coasters and hand-stitched decorative pillows. She also made the open sign herself.
The majority of OTBP’s current domestic inventory is seasonally appropriate items.
“That’s just the way my wife thinks,” Johnny said.
Besides original hand-made items, OTBP offers eclectic items for the home including pool cues, poker sets, vintage beer signs and dartboards.
“Where else are you going to find a Joe Camel dartboard?” Johnny said, pointing to one on the floor.
While such novelty items are a big part of the store’s charm, Johnny’s real focus is on the music side.
Twelve brand new Samick guitars designed by Greg Bennett hang on display inside OTBP. Along with the guitars are picks, strings, straps, capos, drumsticks and other assorted music accessories.
Due to size constraints, Johnny cannot carry everything he sells in the store itself, but still makes an effort to provide musicians with whatever they may need. At a customer’s request, he bought a shipment of Elixir-brand guitar strings from one of the many music supply catalogs he orders from. This is just a temporary solution before OTBP can expand.
“Eventually we see this becoming two stores,” Johnny said.
In a perfect world (i.e. when property becomes available), Shelley would open up her own store on High Street. This second store would take with it all of the art and non-music items from the original store as well as take the name of OTBP. This would allow Johnny to convert his original store into a full-service recording studio, complete with a music store and individual teaching rooms for lessons. He essentially envisions a commercial recording place for musicians, local or otherwise.
Until this metamorphosis happens, Johnny is happy to help out local musicians like Miami sophomore Kramer Gibson. A member of the marching band, steel band and Miami athletic band, Gibson also has a jam band on the side. Originally a chemistry major, Gibson is now auditioning to be a music education major. For the time being, before Johnny’s store vision becomes a reality, he gives out Gibson’s business cards offering drum lessons.
In return, Gibson is more than willing to purchase his drumsticks from OTBP.
“I was pumped when I found out about the store because every music major I know has to order stuff online,” he said. “This is the beginning of an opportunity to get equipment in-town faster.”
By developing relationships right now with local musicians, ideally Gibson could one day be giving drum lessons at OTBP.
“Most students interested in music have been seeking me out,” Johnny said. ?
It’s a win-win situation for them both.
“I play well enough to be a rhythm guitarist, but my real focus is recording” Johnny said. “You’ve got to surround yourself with people that know what you don’t.”
Another one of Johnny’s allows anyone to be a musician, at least for the night.
With OTBP’s current property location leased through 2009, “I want a place with a big window facing outside that’s open late night,” Johnny said. “I want people to be able to come in with a blank CD and do karaoke recordings.”
In addition to the karaoke and recording plans, Johnny wants to expand beyond the store and come to students.
“I have a huge heated and insolated storage barn for recording equipment 10 minutes outside of town,” he said.
This storage space makes it possible for Johnny to work as a sound engineer and DJ for campus parties. But before this can happen, Johnny must come up with the money to fund his lofty goals.
“There is still so much to do,” he said. “Nobody [banks] don’t want to give you money right now. I think 50 grand is my magic number to catapult my plans.”
Graduating from Miami University in 1997, Johnny is a self-identified man of many hats. Besides owning OTBP, he runs an Oxford-based contracting company and is a licensed local real estate agent with Coldwell Banker.
“I’ve pretty much always been a self-employed guy,” Johnny said. “I hang out here all day long, order stuff and play guitar.”
Right now OTBP remains a sole proprietorship. As soon as Johnny gets the funds, he plans to hire his son, Ian – also a musician – to work in the store.
“That way I can get out and start networking,” Johnny said. “I don’t plan on doing any outside hiring for now.”
Johnny isn’t as concerned with the music store’s location as he is with his wife finding a high-traffic property area on High Street.
“Once word gets around, the music guys will come to me,” he said. “The art items require a lot of walk-in clients to sell. Fortunately, we’ve made a lot of contacts with High Street businesses.”
Before this conversion happens however, Shelley would have to leave her job as a counselor at Valley View High School out in Germantown. Johnny hopes one she’ll be able to just work at the store and hang out with him uptown. Currently Shelley only has time to work Saturdays at the store Johnny remains optimistic for the future of OTBP.
“People have been finding me,” he said. “Our big new sign is really key … we’re not directly on High St. so we don’t get a lot of walk-in traffic right now.”