Oak Park pals open 'music lifestyle outlet' on Roosevelt

• Laid back atmosphere designed to create a hangout for musicians who'll eventually buy

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Wes Cichosz strums an Eastwood guitar as he sits on one of the overstuffed earth-tone couches in Musicopia, the store he and longtime buddy Stephan Kohnke opened in March.

Cichosz enthuses about the Eastwood, liking the way it plays, feeling good that their shop is the only Midwest distributor of the Korean- and Chinese-made instruments that replicate designs of electric guitars from the 1960s.

"The detail is unheard of, even for American guitars," Cichosz says.

The owners sip coffee, offer donuts and exchange friendly verbal barbsâ€"the quick-witted japing of two friends who met in Spanish class in seventh grade at then-Hawthorne Junior High (now Julian Middle School). But the self-described "hipster dufuses" aren't joking when it comes to business.

Musicopia, they say, is unlike other music stores. They use the term "music lifestyle outlet" to describe the laid-back atmosphere there. They eschew high-pressure sale techniques in favor of diversification and a shop that looks more like a well-decorated living room than an overstocked music store.

"It's more of a 'what goes around comes around' thing," Cichosz says.

What they've sent around is a place to hang out and talk about music. Both professional musicians, Cichosz "gigs" 200 to 300 times a year.

Giant armoires on two walls seem to be an expensiveâ€"albeit handsomeâ€"way to display merchandise. But Cichosz's father, the owner of the shop's 6907 W. Roosevelt Road building, is a general contractor, and has employees build the furniture pieces during down time.

Cichosz and Kohnke opened the store with just $45,000, which included inventory.

The shop offers a big-screen television that plays concert and instrument training videos, free coffee, locally produced art for purchase, secondhand clothes (think hipster dufusâ€"what to wear onstage or to a show), guitars, drums and other instruments.

Kohnke had a tech job until he got laid off in 2001. So, he's the company president, does the books and keeps the eBay online business going. All of the instruments in the store are available online, too. The site www.musicopia.com links to their eBay store.

They'll clear out the front of the store for live music nights. Check the website for upcoming events.

But so far the biggest profit center for Musicopia has been the five practice rooms at the rear of the store. The owners and other teachers lead one-on-one music lessons for just about any instrument. Kohnke plays and teaches drums, while Cichosz does guitar, saxophone and clarinet.

"It's a school as much as it is anything else," Kohnke says, adding that all Musicopia teachers will be musicians who continue to play professionally.

Musicopia has a dozen students so far, and the owners say they're adding two or three every week.

Both 33, Cichosz and Kohnke say Musicopia will be "a little cooler" than Chicago's Old Town School of Folk Music, and that there's nothing like it in the area. Kohnke is already thinking about expanding.

"Down the road we'd like to open these everywhere," he says. "The theory is applicable across the country."

• Musicopia's grand opening will take place from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. on April 23 and will feature live music and refreshments. The store is at 6907 W. Roosevelt Roadâ€"the Berwyn sideâ€"a few blocks west of Oak Park Avenue.

CONTACT: dcarter@wjinc.com

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