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How A Historic LA Guitar Shop Is Fighting To Stay Afloat During The Pandemic

From right to left: Candelas Guitars owner Tomás Delgado, musician and customer Stephanie Amaro and her husband, guitarist Andy Abad.
Courtesy of the artist
From right to left: Candelas Guitars owner Tomás Delgado, musician and customer Stephanie Amaro and her husband, guitarist Andy Abad.

Candelas Guitars, a neighborhood fixture in East Los Angeles, has been hit hard by the coronavirus shutdown.

The shop has been serving customers since 1947, and Tomás Delgado says his family has been making guitars in Los Angeles for three generations. But the business, named after Delgado's great-uncle Candelario, dates back even further, when his family lived in Mexico.

"My grandfather, Porfirio Delgado, and my great-uncle, Candelario Delgado, started the business in 1928 in Torreón, moved to Juárez in 1932, then opened the shop in Tijuana in the early '40s and then ultimately opened the shop here in Los Angeles in 1947," Delgado says. "They were two orphan brothers, basically just trying to eat and survive, and started a really solid business."

That business, however, has been seriously threatened. Delgado says their regular clientele included musicians who came to the store for strings, accessories and repairs, but that side of his business has dried up.

"All of that is gone," he says. "The things that are keeping me busy right now are the custom orders that I've had on backlog."

Since the pandemic shut Candelas' doors more than two months ago, Delgado says, he has been building more classical and flamenco guitars, and he's doing more restoration work.

Musician Stephanie Amaro was one of Candelas Guitars' steady customers and plays a mariachi guitar she bought from the store. As a solo artist, she plays at concerts and festivals, and as a gig musician, she plays at private events such as weddings and quinceañeras. Much like the store she gets her supplies from, Amaro says her business has been severely affected by the pandemic.

"Any kind of gathering is completely forbidden right now, which means no live performances and all of the concerts scheduled for the summer, and for the spring, and wedding season, actually, is canceled," she says.

Delgado says the daily income he has been losing over the past two months will never be recovered.

"My grandpa, my dad, made me promise that I would keep the hours and keep the business going, but this revenue, we're never going to get it back," he says. "So it's going to have long-term effects on my small business and I'm sure everybody else's."

While the store is closed, Delgado put all but two of his employees on paid leave. To generate much-needed income, he hired guitar instructor Kenneth Del Río to do online classical guitar lessons.

"That's helping a little bit. We're hoping that will pick up and help sustain us through the next couple months," he says. "But other than that, on the retail side of it, phone calls and walk-ins and anything else, there's not much more we can do."

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Betto Arcos
Betto Arcos is a freelance music journalist. He writes stories about music from around the world, with an emphasis on Latin America. He has been a contributor to NPR programming since 2009, when he began reviewing music for All Things Considered on the weekends.