By Tyler Davis
Sylva’s In Your Ear Music Emporium on West Main Street is celebrating its silver anniversary.
Store owner Lauren Calvert opened the shop in July of 1994 at an opportune time – the rise of the CD and lack of a music store in Sylva let her “hit the market on the head,” she said.
“I went to a store in Waynesville to get a CD and the guy there couldn’t take his eyes off the baseball game long enough to say two words to me,” Calvert said. “I had the thought, ‘If I’m one student who wanted a CD and that was what I got, how many other students want CDs and want a good experience?’”
In the beginning, the 2,900 square-foot store dealt mostly in consignment items, due to a lack of money.
Since opening as primarily a music store, In Your Ear has started selling vape products, cannabidiol, instruments, incense, vinyl records and other products.
“You kind of have to keep reinventing yourself, which is something I’ve done every five years,” she said.
In Your Ear received a temporary makeover for the filming of Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri, and still has a souvenir – the sign reading “Music Emporium.”
Now, the brick-and-mortar David is locked in a conflict with a digital Goliath.
“Brick and mortars are having trouble keeping their doors open because Amazon can beat everyone’s prices,” Calvert said. “Retail is hard for everybody right now. People pick your brain about a product for 25 to 35 minutes, then take a picture of the code to buy it online. It’s just not conscious thinking.”
Calvert said that there isn’t enough information in schools on how online shopping can affect towns and their local businesses.
“Kids don’t realize that in the digital age and buying off of Amazon, eventually they’re going to walk down Main Street and there’s not going to be anywhere to hang out with your friends,” she said.
Adapting to the times helped Calvert weather the advent of the internet.
She has bought a truck for a mobile store to travel to Western Carolina University to encourage more college students to shop.
Calvert said she wants to start offering more services, like renting out PA equipment or offering music lessons.
“Service is where the money is at,” she said. “Retail is like shoveling mercury with a pitchfork. I’m not sure what the future is holding or what path to take.”
The revival of vinyl has led to a “huge increase in revenue,” Calvert said. She said there are two groups buying records – people following the trend, and those who never stopped buying it.
Calvert said she can use the internet to her advantage, ordering specific items that can’t be found in stores.
Another advantage local shops have is personalized customer service.
“If you have an issue with a product, you can come back in and we’ll take care of you,” she said.
Other stores selling vapes and CBD have opened closer to WCU, which Calvert says is a potential challenge.
“We’ve weathered every other business that’s opened up,” she said.
Her knowledge of products in her store helps put her business above others.
“I can answer a lot of questions where CBD is concerned because I’ve sold it for over four years,” Calvert said. “People like that. My job has always been let us do the work for you – let us give you the Cliffs Notes version and trust us to sell you quality products.”
Despite the difficulties of owning In Your Ear, Calvert said she’s never considered closing.
“Every time I get an offer to buy the store, I get cold feet, because I love what I do,” Calvert said. “I could never close it because I’d feel like I’m letting down my community. I can’t imagine what West Main Street would be like without it. It’s an icon.”