Ludlow Guitars Owner Predicts Brighter Future In Brooklyn

Kaan Howell Infront of the Well-Known Storefront

Kaan Howell in front of Ludlow Guitars

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.

Original Ludlow Guitars sign

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.

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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.

Ludlow Guitars is Relocating to Brooklyn After 17 Years on the Lower East Side

Ludlow Guitars, 172 Ludlow St. Photo from the business's website.

Ludlow Guitars, 172 Ludlow St. Photo from the business’s website.

Another beloved Lower East Side independent business is fading away. Ludlow Guitars has made the decision to close up shop at 172 Ludlow St. after almost two decades in the neighborhood.  Here’s the message from owner Kaan Howell:

With great sadness, we are informing you that Ludlow Guitars will be closing its doors to the Lower East Side this July 18th. These last 17 years have been an amazing journey and we are exceptionally proud to have been able to serve the musical community for as long we have. To have grown and shared our passion for music with those who have ever walked through our doors. We would like to thank everyone from the bottom of our hearts for helping make Ludlow Guitars what it is today, and though we are sad to go, not all is lost. We are in the process of finding a new home in Brooklyn and are hoping to have a new location up and running by the end of Fall. So, before the doors finally shut here, come down, reminisce, play some guitar and help us say farewell to a place that has been our home for so long.

Ludlow Guitars was one of the last holdouts on a block that once personified the Lower East Side’s bohemian creative spirit. A stretch that formerly included Max Fish, Pink Pony, Daredevil Tattoo and TG-170 is now dominated by two major hotels — Ludlow Hotel and Hotel Indigo — as well as the newly opened Soho House.

Here’s an excerpt from a 2012 profile of Ludlow Guitars in Made to Be Played, the blog of Guild Guitars:

Ludlow Guitars in Manhattan’s Lower East Side is a class-act New York destination for connoisseurs of fine instruments. “In a supermarket, you can get 18 different kinds of sliced white bread,” says owner (Kaan) Howell. “And if you know what you want, then that’s a perfectly good place to go. We’re not the supermarket; we’re the corner store.” But Ludlow Guitars doesn’t discriminate. Although the store attracts mostly discerning musicians, its doors are open to all. Besides, it’s hard for the average bystander not to be captivated by the bedazzling eye-candy mounted on the store’s walls.

Several years ago, Ludlow Guitars moved from a space a few doors away on the same block due to a steep rent hike.