For this month’s “Looking Local” series, we spoke with Keith Grasso, co-owner and co-manager of Island Music Company, located on Charles Street in La Plata, in what was once known as the P.S. Bowling and Ben Franklin building.
A native of La Plata, Grasso founded Island Music Company with his wife, Nicki, in 2007 with 12 guitars in a 10-by-10-foot room. Today, the company employs 12 staff, 16 contracted lesson instructors, and three contracted service/repair technicians, and houses more than 2,500 guitars and other instruments in an 8,500 square foot showroom. The company has been named one of the top 100 music stores in the country for four consecutive years.
The Grassos are as passionate about community involvement as they are about music. In 2015, Island Music Company donated $10,000 to the Charles County School Music Program raised during its Annual Rocktoberfest. It also helps local musicians by providing them with a location to play, allowing them to promote live music in other venues, and offering affordable solutions for their equipment.
Charles County Department of Economic Development (EDD): What is your favorite part of working/living in Charles County?
Keith Grasso (KG): Charles County is unique in location. Being close to Annapolis, Baltimore, and the D.C. Metro Area adds culture and flavor to our area. We have everything from the small town feel to city life. You can grab crabs on the waterfront or get Amish-built furniture in the rural area.
Our location on the East Coast makes Charles County a beautiful place too. We get all four seasons. I love that I can play in the snow with my daughter in the winter, but also barbeque on a hot summer day.
EDD: What would you tell someone considering relocating their business to Charles County?
KG: One really great thing about being in Charles County is the sense of comradery among businesses and the community. The residents strongly support local businesses and that’s a rarity in this day and age. With the internet at everyone’s fingertips, the residents do us a great service by walking into our store to buy. They know that in exchange, we offer them great customer service and they would gladly return to the store rather than shop online.
EDD: What is the best business advice you were ever given?
KG: “Never give up, fear nothing, and work hard.” It’s simple and to the point; it’s tried and true. When we opened, it was during the biggest economic decline in modern times, and people told me the business wouldn’t make it. With a lot of hard work, creativity, and determination, we pushed through the rough times and have since flourished so much that we have expanded four times in Charles County.
EDD: What is your favorite spot to visit in the County?
KG: I love downtown La Plata—shopping, eating, and spend time with friends at the local businesses and restaurants there. There are so many great businesses within close proximity. Being the president of the La Plata Business Association, I can speak for most of the businesses in saying that we have tried to advance the town as a business and customer-friendly locale.
EDD: What do you feel is the most important skill one needs to have to run his or her own business?
KG: Tenacity, drive, and “stickability.” I created the term “stickability” to describe the ability to stick with an idea or project so long that you wear down your competition. If you have to have the willpower to outlast whatever obstacle or competition you are up against, you will win. I have personally experienced this. If nine times out of 10, you stick with it, the other person won’t.
Island Music Company plans to continue to grow and expand its business in Charles County and the broader marketplace, focusing on creating a stronger online presence and curating the same kind of environment that a customer would get in the store through the launch of a new interactive video program. Additionally, the company is working to bring back “Sidewalk Saturdays” in La Plata to allow local bands to perform outside, promoting a culture of walking downtown around the local businesses.