Drumming up business in Jerusalem

A new musical instrument store downtown has become a hub for aficionados and newcomers alike, both locally and beyond.

Drumbite on Hahavatzelet Street (photo credit: DANIEL ELIOR)
Drumbite on Hahavatzelet Street
(photo credit: DANIEL ELIOR)
Downtown Jerusalem has taken its fair share of knocks over the years. Even if you ignore all the centuries of squabbling over the Old City by Greeks, Romans, Babylonians, Assyrians, you-name-’em, the contemporary western sector has been through the mill and back numerous times.
During the Second Intifada, you’d hardly see a living soul along Jaffa Road and the Ben-Yehuda pedestrian mall. And if that weren’t enough to drive downtown businesses to the brink of financial implosion – and, in quite a few cases, over the edge – construction of the light rail went on seemingly interminably, turning the center of town into a permanent building site.
Thankfully, the light rail is up and running – albeit four years late and well over budget – and for most, the Second Intifada has faded into the mists of the annals of regional strife.
Today, parts of the center of town are almost unrecognizable compared with, say, a decade ago, although there are still small businesses dotted along the side streets running off Jaffa Road, toiling to survive.
Then again, there is Drumbite on Hahavatzelet Street. As you make your way along the dusty thoroughfare, with its clothes stores, tattoo and piercing establishment, printer’s shop and office buildings, you step into what can only be described as a music emporium.
I heard about the place from a Tel Aviv-based jazz drummer friend, who had made his way eastward along Route 1, along with another jazz drummer pal, to purchase some cymbals.
“What!” I exclaimed incredulously. “You came from Tel Aviv to buy drums and cymbals in Jerusalem?”
“Assaf has an amazing place,” came the reply. “It’s the best music instrument store in Israel, bar none.”
I was more than a little intrigued. Jerusalem has a lot to offer on the cultural front – not that you’d hear too many Tel Avivites admit that in polite company – but the possibility that this long-suffering town might have a better commercial enterprise, of any ilk, and especially in the music sector, had my eyebrows at high mast.
The aforementioned proprietor is a genial chap by the name of Assaf Kraus who runs the show along with his Czech-born partner Monika Borzikova. The business opened in early 2016 and has been providing local musicians, and even some foreign artists, with quality wares across a broad spectrum of categories ever since.
The store name would seem to indicate a percussion orientation, but there is more, so much more, on offer on the store’s expansive two-story premises.
For starters, there are all kinds of instruments on display, besides the broad stretch of drums and percussion implements from assorted cultures and parts of the world.
As you enter the store, your eye will likely be drawn to the polychromic array of electric guitars hanging coolly on the wall to the right. Reds, turquoise and a splash or two of yellow, white and – naturally – definitively sexy black.
There’s even some Jerusalem Post history at Drumbite, Kraus explains, as I note the cymbal offerings have a uniquely decorated backdrop, which looks more than a little burnished.
“This wall has a Jerusalem Post connection. There was once a printing shop here called Blau, which printed the paper, and there was a fire. This is what was left by the bits of burned paper,” indicating the wall’s peeling charcoal effect.
Kraus has an eye for aesthetics, and he subtly incorporated the charred remains into the polished contemporary décor. Mind you, he was only following suit.
“All the owners of the different businesses which operated here left the wall as is because it looked cool,” he adds.
“Cool” would be a fitting epithet for Drumbite. Kraus and Borzikova have gone the whole hog. There are keyboards, all manner of speakers, headphones and practically every amplification add-on you could imagine. You can stock up on guitar strings and drumsticks, and an array of fuzzy-looking drum mallets that cover the full psychedelic color spectrum. Then there are audio controllers, mics, mixers and synthesizers, oh and some ukuleles and mandolins.
Back to the burned Jerusalem Post cymbal wall. “These cymbals come from Turkey, where they are fired,” says Kraus. “So having that wall there seemed to provide a natural environment.”
Besides being a personable fellow, Kraus also happens to be a rock-oriented drummer and educator. He is also a proud Israeli and Jerusalemite who could have tried his professional luck in other greener pastures.
He is aware of how surprised people might be to discover such a well-appointed musical instrument outlet in Jerusalem, rather than down the road.
“I am an active drummer and, if I lived in Tel Aviv, I could find a lot more gigs. But I love Jerusalem. I don’t know whether it’s anxiety that kept me here. I am one of those people that prefer to water their own plant in their own home.”
So, Kraus is not looking to get out and about to make the desert bloom? “Actually, I think this store is really about making the desert bloom,” he counters. “I think, with all modesty, there is something here that does contribute to making the Jerusalem cultural desert bloom.”
Then again, Kraus is not entirely sure the Jerusalem musical hinterland needs too much in the way of irrigation. He feels the artistic seeds are here, and they are doing a pretty good job of cultivating themselves, that is, partly with a little help from Drumbite.
“We have a school here,” he says, pointing to an extension to the building. “People come here to learn and I see there is a hunger for music, to play music in Jerusalem. And we have lessons here on every instrument going.”
Kraus also doubles as a music therapist, and has pulled out all the stops to offer as broad a range of facilities as you could possibly cram into the, albeit generously proportioned, premises. There is a soundproof room at the back where people can come to rehearse, and the store has hosted quite a few Thursday evening shows and jam sessions.
He is also proud of the spread of wares he sells. “This store, from a business standpoint, offers equipment pluralism. You go to Klezmer and find Fender Gibson [guitars], but when I opened my first, much smaller store, near here, on Yitzhak Elyashar Street – it ran for six years – when I contacted Klezmer for equipment they said, that’s fine but you can only stock our equipment. I said I don’t want to be limited, so I went on my own.
“When I opened this place, I said I want to stock everything here. If a customer wants something, I’ll get it for them, even if we make 20% on it and not 40%. I believe in pluralism.”
Admirable mind-set aside, at the end of the day Kraus and Borzikova have to eat. When Kraus was forced to leave his studio-cum-store on Yitzhak Elyashar, he decided to take the plunge, with a certain amount of trepidation.
“To make the leap from paying rent of NIS 3,500 to NIS 20,000 was really scary,” he admits. “My brother was very supportive and told me not to be afraid. We’re not making money, but we’re not losing money either.”
So Drumbite is getting by, but Kraus says he wouldn’t mind a little help from some friends over at the municipality. “I’m not a charity case and I’m not looking for a lot. A 5% reduction on the arnona [municipal tax] would be nice [he pays the municipality NIS 6,000 arnona] or even just spreading the word that there’s a quality musical instrument store in town, that would be nice.”
For more information: (02) 500-0632 or www.drumbite.co.il