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Obit: Pete Smakula September 23, 2008

CupOfTea 07 Oct 08 - 09:33 AM
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Subject: Obit: Pete Smakula September 23, 2008
From: CupOfTea
Date: 07 Oct 08 - 09:33 AM

Pete Smakula, founder and soul of Goose Acres has died.

Yep, he was a crumudeon of the highest order. Folknet's (the Northeast Ohio Traditional Music and Dance Society) newsletter Continuum delivered the news along with history, taken from his official obit, parts of which are posted below my memories -

I bought my first folk music instruments from him and enjoyed running up against his crumudgeonlyness. When I brought an instrument into his store that I'd gotten elsewhere, "Are you going to fix it or just bitch about it?" I'd ask him. After explaining that fixing might involve total demolition of the offending instrument, he'd make sure it got fixed, most likely better than it deserved. If you could grump right back at him, you had his respect.

Pete was unfailingly supportive of all folk music in the area, and was THE main source for tickets, opinions, recordings, sheet music, opinions, announcements, supplies, opinions, instruments, and of course, opinions. I don't think that anyone in Cleveland touched more folk music people's lives than Pete. Goose Acres was the place that functioned as a touchstone for so many: most tourning performers would stop in. I'm fortunate enough to have one of the early Goose Acres autoharps - much loved and daily played, it's my favorite/best/nicest instrument. I'd get Pete's goat by calling it a "GooseAharp" on a regular basis.

The Continuum article was taken from the official obit, and what is below is edited further. The the entire text and pictures are available Official Obit
The music community lost a one of a kind individual in September. Peter H. Smakula, the owner of Goose Acres Folk Music Center in Cleveland, Ohio, passed away from lung cancer on September 23, 2008.

Peter was born in Jena, Germany in 1936, and grew up with the hardships of World War II Germany. During the wartime Peter had a life-changing event in the form of a visit from his mother's cousin. The relative was riding a motorcycle with a sidecar. Peter knew that he had to have one as soon as possible. When the war ended, his father ...(had)the family chose to come to the United States in 1947.

In 1957 he started a series of scientific research jobs to support his young family. These jobs included pioneer research with lasers at Harshaw Chemical and working with photo lamp designers at General Electric. During that time he honed his skills on banjo and taught himself guitar, mandolin and Old Time fiddle.

Motorcycle racing continued to be a part of his life. He participated in scramble and flat track races and became a champion ice racer in the early 1960's. The family spent many cold winter Saturdays watching motorcycles customized for racing on ice with inch and a quarter metal spikes protruding from the tires, roar around frozen New England lakes.

Around 1970, Peter needed his fiddle repaired. Following a recommendation, he took his fiddle to a renowned local guitar maker. He was charged the then outrageous sum of forty dollars for the repair. The repaired crack opened up within a week. Knowing that he could do a better job himself, he added the hobby of string and fretted instrument repair to his already busy schedule.

He lost his corporate job with General Electric during an economic downturn in the mid 1970's. To help make ends meet, he started teaching traditional music styles in the Cleveland, Ohio area. The combination of a steady demand for instrumental music instruction, instrument repairs and a son, Bob Smakula, already building instruments in the family basement lead to the creation of a small business. They named the business, "Goose Acres Thumb Piano Factory & Dulcimer Works," in reference to the family home located next to a pond where a pair of Canada geese nested every year.

In 1977, the business outgrew the basement. After a little research, Peter decided that the University Circle area of Cleveland would be a great location for a store specializing in folk music. Goose Acres Folk Music Center was an immediate hit. Lessons and instrument building filled the long busy day. Keeping the shop open for twelve hours a day left little time for outside interests. In addition to the lessons, sales and repair work, Goose Acres hosted open pickin' sessions every first and third Friday of the month. Old Time, bluegrass, and folk musicians from northeast Ohio would convene for four hours of impromptu music in the small store.

1983 was likely one of the worst years for an acoustic music shop to be in business. Electric keyboards were all the rage and the Reaganomics of the era did not trickle down to small businesses. In spite of this, Peter bought a bigger building in the Little Italy section of Cleveland and expanded Goose Acres.

Upon walking into the relocated shop, customers first saw a thirty foot long wall of acoustic guitars including those made by Taylor, Santa Cruz, Alvarez, Alverez-Yairi, and National Reophonic, as well as a formidable collection of expertly restored vintage guitars. Turning around, they faced a wall of vintage and hand made Goose Acres banjos. Filling in the gaps were the Goose Acres line of chorded zithers, which were patterned after the early Autoharps. Scattered along the walls were photographs of artists who owned and played Goose Acres banjos including the late Tommy Thompson of the Red Clay Ramblers, the legendary Doc Watson, and Norman Blake. In the center of the show room were racks of recordings by both world renown and local musicians and singers.

Peter H. Smakula was known for being a very opinionated music storeowner. He had no tolerance for the low quality, instrument shaped objects that flooded the market. He would joke about using these instrument shaped objects for target practice. He was not entirely joking however as evidenced by the bullet hole riddled, junky guitar hanging high on a showroom wall.

Though Peter never made more than a living with Goose Acres he was responsible for encouraging a strong Old Time music scene in northeast Ohio. Between his forty music students a week and building banjos, dulcimers, and autoharps, he had little time for much else. Still he tinkered on various vintage sports cars and motorcycles. He also designed tooling used to build instruments and was granted a United States patent, number 4508003, for a dual acting truss rod used in the necks of fretted instruments.

On the last day of 2006, Goose Acres was closed. At the age of 70, Peter H. Smakula was ready to retire and take on flat track motorcycle racing again. With his 1970's Harley Sprint and a new set of bright, red and black racing leathers, he headed back to the racetracks of Ohio as an eager competitor. He never placed first in his division, but he improved with each race. Unfortunately at the same time his fifty years of cigarette smoking caught up with him and he was diagnosed with lung cancer.

Peter was known as the musical curmudgeon of Cornell Road. This persona softened in the last years of the business as the prospect of retirement and a return to motorcycle racing became a reality. This caused his children to ask "Who are you and what have you done with Pete?"

A memorial openhouse is scheduled for Saturday, October 11, 2008 at the Goose Acres building, 2175 Cornell Rd, Cleveland, Ohio. Hours will be from 11:00 AM to 3:00 PM with a memorial tribute at 12:00 Noon. Please bring an instrument for jamming and stories to share. The family will host a lunch after the tribute. If you can, bring a potluck snack or desert to share.

Parking in the Little Italy area of Cleveland is limited. We encourage car-pooling and using public transportation. We will reserve the Goose Acres parking lot for those with disabilities.

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