On June 30th, Ludlow Guitars announced its move to Brooklyn. After 17 years on the Lower East Side, the celebrated shop is making the leap to another borough. Although sorry to leave his Ludlow Street home, the shop’s owner, Kaan Howell, predicts a prosperous future for his business and is finding ways to extend its reach beyond retail sales.
Kaan Howell moved from England to New York with his family when he was 8 or 9 years old. His father is a musician, so he was surrounded by musical instruments, while growing up, for as long as he can remember. Although he had no desire to be a musician, Howell was fascinated with instruments. “Long before I could even play a guitar,” Howell said, “I knew stuff about them. I knew little bits and pieces about an instrument without being able to play.”
Although the Howell family lived on the Upper West Side, he often made trips to local favorites like Max Fish’s, CBGBs and Pink Pony, experiencing the Lower East Side’s counterculture at its tail-end. “This area was entirely a different place,” Howell recalls. “It had that sort of artsy bohemian, slightly younger musical crowd. This whole area was buzzing in that way. It was a little bit more dangerous, it wasn’t as nice, but it had its own character and charm.”
Eventually, “by family, by happenstance,” the Howells were given the opportunity to open the guitar shop. Although Howell’s father initiated the new ownership, Kaan Howell immediately took over the business and has been running it ever since. “It’s been a lot of fun,” he said, “insanely difficult sometimes but a lot of fun.
According to Howell, the move to Brooklyn is not due to an alarming rent increase, unlike his move 6 years ago from 164 Ludlow St. to the current location. “Normally when you do the move,” he said, “it’s not generally one thing (namely a rent hike).”
“The lease is not up this second,” Howell said, “but I’m choosing to leave before I really don’t have a choice.”
The pace at which the L.E.S. is changing speeds up with every high-rise and every local business closure. “New York is a city of change and the Lower East Side is a neighborhood on the rise. There’s a sadness involved with that because it’s nice [for small businesses] to be able to stick it through and see a part of that [change] but some things are just not viable, you just can’t do it,” Howell said.
The move makes sense, he said, because it will allow for the business to keep afloat and to grow. “I have a plan for the future,” he said, “It’ll be like Ludlow Guitars 3.0 rather than what it is today.” Howell alludes to more involvement with the music community — possible workshops and music classes.
Apart from having a smaller space, the layout of the new shop will be tailored to accommodate more than the retail. “What I’ve got planned is gonna be different, unlike what other people have done and it won’t be what people were expecting.”
When asked what he’ll miss most about the LES, he said, “I’m gonna miss the street. I kind of already miss it in a way of like…it’s so different. It’s a funny thing about being ion a street for a very long time. It’s like the world is going by you and you get to see the street move and change. I’ve been here long enough to see time passing.”
Howell is aiming for a grand opening in Brooklyn this fall. Ludlow Guitars closes on July 18th.