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Thorold guitar maker celebrates 25 years of working with the greats

Mike Palermo has made guitars for some of the most famous rockstars in the world; 'Niagara has a great live scene and the bands around here are amazing'

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT: A version of article was originally published by ThoroldToday on May 7.

Mike Palermo initially wanted to be a teacher – but then rock and roll came calling.

Palermo, rather than standing in front of a classroom full of kids, found himself on stages across North America performing as the guitarist in Thorold’s own contribution to alt-rock, Supergarage.

But by 1999, Palermo branched out, opening Mike’s Music on Pine Street, selling guitars, doing repairs and teaching the next generation of axe-slingers.

"I thought before I get into that kind of thing, I'm going to start a business and do repairs and lessons as my main source, and bring in instruments and sell those,” said Palermo, in an interview with ThoroldToday. “And then it just literally grew from that.”

And he’s still there, despite being a small player in a landscape dotted with big box instrument sellers with large-scale online retail operations.

“It’s funny, because when we started nobody was doing online and we were,” Palermo said. “So, in 1999, we were literally the first to do to do online shopping. Now it's gotten so big everyone does it. It's a non-issue now.”

The store recently marked its 25th year in business with a large sale featuring a 25 per cent discount on items in the store, including guitars and basses from companies such as Ibanez, Gretsch, Charvel, Jackson, EVH and Sire.

He has also been crafting his own instruments for a few years under the name Palermo Guitars. Some of his instruments had been crafted for the likes of actor-musician Johnny Depp and Joe Perry (Aerosmith). Both are members of Alice Cooper’s side project, The Hollywood Vampires. Palermo is friends with Vampires/Alice Cooper Band guitarist Tommy Henriksen. and Nikki Sixx (Motley Crue). 

“I’ve made guitars since probably the 90s and I just kind of just continued on since then,” said Palermo, adding that he also built a replica of a Mick Mars (recently departed from Motley Crue) modified Fender Stratocaster for his former bandmate, bassist Nikki Sixx.

All this has been done while Mike’s Music has retained its small grassroots feel and it’s that small size that has been behind the store’s success, Palermo said.

“We just like keep it as small and simple as we can.”

But small hasn’t necessarily meant limited services. More than just a guitar ship, Mike’s Music also provides lessons, instrument repairs and more.

“We even do recording [and] mastering for bands and stuff like that,” Palermo said. “There’s a lot of diversity in our income streams.”

The store has helped keep in tune with Niagara’s music scene, which Palermo said has a solid reputation in live entertainment circles.

“Niagara has a great live scene and the bands around here are amazing,” said Palermo. “I've spoken to people from Toronto, and they say Niagara has some of the best music they've ever heard.”

And while sales are moving more and more online, Palermo thinks there will always be a place for smaller brick-and-mortar stores like Mike’s Music.

“I always think there's going to be people always needing their guitars set up, and looked after,” he said. “I think repairs are going to be a big reason for a smaller shop to stay in business."

In the end, the fate of the store doesn’t lie with him, but its customers.

“Customers are letting us stay this long,” Palermo said. “It's all up to them.”

Mike’s Music is located at 9 Pine St. North in Thorold. Store hours are Monday to Wednesday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Thursday and Friday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

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Richard Hutton

About the Author: Richard Hutton

Richard Hutton is a veteran Niagara journalist, telling the stories of the people, places and politics from across the region
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