Paul Bartell has filled the Baroque Violin Shop with instruments and stories for all to enjoy.Marc Emral The shop isn’t where you would expect a violin shop.
And it’s more than a shop, but you wouldn’t know that by sight.
The Baroque Violin Shop at 1038 W. North Bend Road in Finneytown has more than 11,000 instruments (all bowed strings—violins, violas, cellos and basses) for its rental business, and has more for a wholesale company selling instruments to music stores all over the country.
Paul Bartell started the shop in 1974 and runs it with his wife and four sons. He started the business at his kitchen table repairing instruments. He was a music major at Miami University and a professor handed him a bag with a broken cello. He fixed it.
“I developed a passion for fixing instruments,” he says.
He started the violin shop part time while he was teaching and then took it full time a few years later.
He said he doubled his business every year for 10 years. And it’s still growing. How?
“I see the big picture because I am a combination of a musician and a good businessman,” he says. “I treat people right. When someone buys a violin they leave here happy.”
His shop is in the historic Carrie-Jessup House that was built in 1805 by a Revolutionary War veteran. He renovated the house, and has since grown the business into three more buildings where the shop rents, repairs and sells its string instruments.
The three buildings are filled with boxes of instruments that he buys on a yearly trip to China. This was the first year in about 20 he did not make the trip to visit “workshops,” companies with anywhere from two to hundreds of people making instruments by hand. He relied on two of his sons, one who is fluent in Chinese, to make the trip.
“When I first went to China, having an American there was unusual,” he says. “I was one of the first Americans to go. Everything there is made by hand.”
He likes to hear how the instruments sound before he buys. His ears can pick up if the craftsmanship is not up to par. If he likes the sounds, he would buy the booth full of instruments, sometimes hundreds.
Bartel gives talks and lectures, hosts school groups and each year is on the faculty of The Ohio State University String Teacher Workshop. His pay from OSU is unique—it’s two scholarships he uses to send young teachers to the workshop.
“He is passionate. The teacher is always coming out,” says his wife, Jan, who also was a teacher.
The teacher comes out as Bartel explains there are eight sizes of violins, and baroque music sounds differently on a baroque violin than on another type of violin.
And that is one of the reasons why his business is still growing—he knows how to play and what sound the instruments should make. “I can talk about the violin in an intelligent way.”