Violinist Glenn Basham performs
16355 Vanderbilt Drive, Suite 108, Bonita Springs, FL
BONITA SPRINGS — For string musicians, from the emerging to the full-blown professional, just five years ago fixing their tools — violin, viola, cello, bass and the various types of viol da gamba — meant driving a few hours, or even shipping them out of state. Given the delicacy of the instruments, the unique climate of Southwest Florida and the time-sensitive nature of repair work, that could be traumatic. Musicians now have a shop for all that here, at the Violin Shop in Bonita Springs.
As of this month, they also have a place to offer performances. Violin Shop owner William Fleischer’s pride and joy is the opening of the 40-seat Heath recital room, where small groups can perform free of charge. To use the room, teachers or musicians simply call and reserve it.
Owner William Fleischer started his violin-making career 30 years ago, and owns similar shops in Boca Raton and Puerto Rico, as well as three rental shops in Florida. Last weekend he opened his newly expanded shop and recital room several doors down from his first location, as well as the additional recital room. The luthier (violin-maker and repairer) plays also, but not as much as he used to because an injury. His first shop in the area opened doors in 2007.
The recital room is named after Fleischer’s mother, Loree Heath Fleischer.
“She pushed me and pushed me and pushed me as mother’s do,” Fleischer said during a party Saturday celebrating the opening of the recital room.
Close to 50 musicians and supporters turned out for the affair, including Naples Philharmonic concertmaster Glenn Basham. In between rounds of appetizers and drinks, Basham played inside the new recital room.
“We’re really lucky to have a full-service violin shop in a city the size of Naples,” Basham says, adding that it takes someone like Fleischer, who has spent his whole life studying these instruments, to work on the artists’ livelihoods. “He’s one more reason Naples is such a great place to live.”
On Saturday Basham played several classical works on violin, with pianist Catherine Lan accompanying him. Later, however, Basham took off his tie and rolled up his sleeves to play a little jazz and bluegrass with musicians Scott Ritter, Leslie Weidenhammer and Linda Kallinger. A favorite of the audience was Scott Ritter and Basham jazzing it up a bit with “Sweet Georgia Brown.”
Ming Gao, associate concertmaster with the Philharmonic, was one of the Violin Shop’s first customers and couldn’t be happier to be part of the celebration, he said. He used to take his instruments all the way to Miami for repairs and maintenance.
“We desperately needed a body shop,” Gao observed. He even sends his students to buy or rent instruments and to fix any problems.
Employee and musician Linda Kallinger says she felt like she struck gold when she came across the Violin Shop prior to working there. She says Fleischer is a genius at his craft.
“He can fix anything. Things you think can’t ever be repaired. He just fearlessly pulls them apart and fixes them,” Kallinger said.
Repairs such as replacing worn down pegs, finger pads, warped bridges and misaligned fingerboards are commonplace. The shop is currently repairing six violins and two cellos.
Not only does the store provide service to groups such as the Naples Philharmonic Orchestra, the Gulf Coast Symphony and the Southwest Florida Symphony, it also caters to groups in Sarasota, as well as various ensembles that come out of the groups in Southwest Florida. In the three years the shop has operated in Bonita Springs, it has had more than 300 customers walk through the door. That doesn’t include a large number of walk-ins just asking quick questions about a stringed instrument they’re trying to sell or get an estimate on.
As bigger shops shut down across the country, smaller shops are scooping up local clientele to fill in the needs of area musicians.
Filling that need in Southwest Florida has allowed the Violin Shop to grow.
Fleischer owns repair shops in Boca Raton, Puerto Rico and Bonita Springs, and rental shops in Miami, Jupiter and Tampa. Not only does he repair the violin, he can also work on violas, cellos, bass, and the various voices of early-music viola da gamba (a stringed instrument with frets).
Party guest Michele Archer said she played violin for 14 years when a broken wrist forced her to put it down for a while. She started playing again on a 1923 heirloom violin Fleischer essentially brought back from the dead, she said.
“This shop is just a lifesaver. I love it here. I think (the recital room) will encourage more of an expansion of the arts here,” Archer said.
Not only does the shop fix and sell stringed instruments, but it also consigns and rents them.
Philharmonic violinists and teachers Geoffrey Day and Daniela Shtereva recalled that they contacted Fleischer when they needed instruments for 19 of their young students at Seacrest Day School. Fleischer and the Violin Shop pulled up to the school with a truckload of violins to suit the needs of each student.
Most of the clients at the Violin Shop are not just musicians, but teachers. Fleischer explained that he wanted to give them a place to hold recitals. It also brings the shop more exposure.
For Fleischer the party represented the coming together of violin-making and repair and violin performance.
“A violin is meant to be performed on and it’s nice to get that whole circle completed,” Fleischer said.