News / Edmonton

Swan song sounds for iconic store Axe Music

After 38 years, the instrument and audio equipment shop will change hands to Long and McQuade June 1

Axe Music Store Manager Rick Shermack, also known as “Rockin’ Rick.”

Kevin Maimann / Metro Edmonton

Axe Music Store Manager Rick Shermack, also known as “Rockin’ Rick.”

The Axe has come down on an iconic Edmonton music store after 38 years.

Axe Music President Brian Holowaychuk announced Thursday he is selling the instrument and audio equipment retailer on Wayne Gretzky Drive.

Chain retailer Long and McQuade will take over on June 1.

“It’s a very emotionally tough thing,” Holowaychuk said.

“In our business we’re dealing so much with repeat customers … You build a relationship with the people over the years because you’re helping them with their careers and aspirations.”

Holowaychuk said his favourite part of the job was the community events Axe Music staged over the years, like the high-school band showcase Axetremefest.

In 2005, to mark its 25th anniversary, Axe Music partnered with the Edmonton Police Foundation to donate dozens of instruments and free lessons to students at St. Alphonsus, a high-needs junior high school.

The program culminated in a School of Rock-style concert put on by students, a memory Holowaychuk still cherishes.

The night kicked off with a six-girl all-drum band called Think Pink, and got even louder from there.

“I’ve been to a lot of concerts in my life. And this was the most electric event I have ever witnessed in my life,” Holowaychuk said.

“I will never forget there was one kid, they were doing an AC/DC song and the kid drops on the stage doing the Angus Young spin on the floor, and the roof was just going off on this place. It was amazing.”

Holowaychuk started this business as a 22-year-old carpenter making and selling speaker cabinets.

Soon he was doing audio for clubs and churches, and then he started working with the Edmonton Oilers at Northlands.

“The Oilers’ old building, we had done everything in that building,” he said. “The score clock, all the video ribbons, the sound system, all the robotic lighting, we built that oil derrick that used to come down.”

Axe Music will also close its Calgary store at the end of May.

Holowaychuk, who is now 60 years old, ultimately chose to sell the business for his family.

He said his son told him after “some good honest talks” that he liked working at Axe but didn’t want to run the business.  

“I didn’t want to push it on his shoulders that he has to —that’s not a father’s right,” Holowaychuk said.

“I’ve got a lot of interest in a lot of things, and I figure while I’ve still got the health and time to do some of this stuff, it’s time.”

The main reason he was comfortable selling to Long and McQuade, he said, is they promised to keep on as many of his staff members as possible.

Store manager Rick Shermack is one of those who plans to stay through the transition.

Shermack, who voiced the long-running Axe radio ads as “Rockin’ Rick,” said the change is bittersweet.

“It’s been amazing to see the reaction on social media and from customers coming in, phone calls, emails, of just how many people actually care and have good memories about Axe and their experiences here,” he said.

Shermack said Long and McQuade plans to move the store into a new building in the area, likely about a year after they take over.

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