Fiddler’s Green Music Shop relocates to Lockhart
By Wesley Gardner
When Ben Hodges bought Fiddler’s Green Music Shop in Austin on Feb. 25 of this year, he had no idea that COVID-19 would bring everything to a screeching halt. Luckily, the cards ultimately fell is in his favor and the shop has been relocated to North Main Street in Lockhart.
Back in February, Hodges had already managed the shop since it relocated from Memphis, Tennessee to Austin in 2008, and it seemed like the perfect time for him to purchase the shop from owner and good friend Clay Levit.
Then, the pandemic rolled through.
Hodges was forced to close the shop a mere three weeks after he bought it, outside the occasional curbside pickup or online order.
“As a result, all store employees had to be laid off at no fault of their own,” said Hodges. “It broke my heart. Those employees were dear friends, and we had such high hopes for the future together, and so much pride in our little shop.”
Hodges tried to get a Paycheck Protection Program loan through the Small Business Administration, but because he’d only recently purchased the business, he didn’t qualify for any relief.
“I understand that they probably wanted to keep people from saying, ‘Hey, I just started a business, I need loans,’” said Hodges, “but it seems pretty unfair that I bought an existing LLC without any changes to it whatsoever.”
Left with few choices, Hodges had to seriously consider whether he’d stick with his new business.
“There were a lot of things,” he said. “I thought maybe it’s time to get another job. I don’t know.”
Then, as if driven by fate, Hodges found a retail space on the market located under the basement of Loop & Lil’s Pizza.
“It seemed like it just fell right into place,” said Hodges.
As far as the business itself is concerned, Fiddler’s Green offers a wide variety of acoustic string instruments, including guitars, harps, fiddles, ukuleles and even a few flutes and whistles. More than anything, however, the shop specializes in mandolins.
“We’re actually a really big mandolin store,” said Hodges, noting customers often drive hours to view the stores selection of nearly 50 mandolins. “There’s really not anywhere else in this part of the country that you can do that in.
“There are stores that have as many mandolins as we do, but they’re typically up along the west or the east coast.”
Hodges noted the prices of his instruments vary, but due to production problems in China resulting from COVID-19, many of his lower priced items have been out of stock for months. For fiddles and guitars, the less expensive options will typically from somewhere between $300 to $500. Instruments that run cheaper than that tend to come along with too many problems.
“That’s the thing with the cheaper instruments. A lot of them have really good bones, but the devil is in the details – bad tuners, the nut slats aren’t cut right, the bridge isn’t cut right,” said Hodges. “All these instruments come over from China on barges and they go through so many climate changes.
“The temperature changes. The humidity changes. Wood expands and contracts and those plastic and metal components don’t, so everything gets kind of wonky. Even if it was built well in China, by the time it gets over here, it needs some serious adjustment and attention.”
Hodges noted some of the higher-end items can cost more than $2,000 to $3,000, though the quality makes them stand out for serious musicians.
For Hodges, music has pretty much always been a part of his life.
“I’ve been playing guitar since I was a kid and I took that pretty seriously when I was a teenager,” said Hodges. “I really got into the bluegrass music and I wanted to learn how to play the mandolin. That’s actually how I discovered Fiddler’s Green [in Memphis].”
Hodges said he used to loiter around the shop when he wasn’t busy with the tile and stone installation company he co-owned and became friends with owner Clay Levit.
When the financial crash hit it 2007, Hodges said company took a bad hit. Luckily for Hodges, Levit was planning on moving Fiddler’s Green to Austin, and he wanted him to tag along.
The rest is history.
According to Hodges, Fiddler’s Green is much more than a music shop.
“This shop is much more to me than a means to make a living,” said Hodges. “It’s been a central hub for a community of music and art friends to gather and hang out in.
“It’s a place that invites newbies in with the same, if not more, enthusiasm than the local big shots. It’s a place where those newbies become lifelong friends with big shots. I met my wife here. I met most of my friends here. I’ve learned so much here and continue to do so every day. I’ve spent over a quarter of my life here. I love this place dearly.”