Teachers at La Jolla Music seek to raise $200,000 by July 30 to buy and preserve the school
Current owner David Woo is retiring and says he supports the teachers’ effort but will need to sell to an outside buyer if they can’t raise the money.
Teachers at La Jolla Music are hoping for a miracle.
Some are trying to raise nearly $200,000 by Sunday, July 30, to help purchase their beloved music school at 7423 Girard Ave. before a possible sale to an outside buyer. After months of reaching out to various financial agencies, the teachers have set up a GoFundMe page to help raise the money.
Current owner David Woo, who bought La Jolla Music in 2012, plans to retire in coming weeks and sell the school at that time. He offered to sell it to its teachers before seeking an outside buyer.
“He has tried to help us find deal after deal so we could buy it, but a lot of us are private music teachers … so applying for business loans and funding has been challenging,” said instructor Christen Horne. “We have been working at this for months. I have talked to banks and lenders and it’s not coming together. I approached friends and family and they have been super supportive, but haven’t been able to raise it all. … And time is of the essence.”
Horne said the idea to set up a page on the GoFundMe crowdfunding website was inspired by the community efforts in La Jolla to buy the Warwick’s bookstore building and the help given to the managers of the former Pannikin Tea & Coffee to launch the Flower Pot Cafe and Bakery after Pannikin closed.
“The community steps up for what it cares about and its local businesses,” Horne said.
La Jolla Music, which has been open for more than 60 years, offers private and group instruction in voice and various instruments.
“The space is so special because it supports the teachers and students,” Horne said. “There is a wall with teacher pictures and bios sorted by instrument so when a new student comes and says they want to play the piano, they can learn more about all the piano teachers and choose for themselves who they want to take lessons with.”
Woo, a La Jolla resident and former Town Council trustee, said his decision to sell came after his wife retired, moving him from semi-retirement to full retirement.
He said he fully supports the teachers’ effort to buy the school.
“They have the community’s interest at heart,” he said. “I am asking for the down payment because if they don’t have skin in the game, their motivation is not as strong. But I am also reinvesting the majority back into the teachers to manage and run the store.”
“We have been working at this for months. I have talked to banks and lenders and it’s not coming together. … And time is of the essence.”
— Christen Horne
Woo bought the school when it was listed for sale in 2012 because his children took music lessons there.
“I was walking down the street and saw a banner that said ‘Store closing’ and I thought, ‘How could La Jolla lose its music school?’” he said. “I was semi-retired and didn’t have a whole lot going on, so I bought it and turned it into a project.”
He moved La Jolla Music to a larger space and created studios for teachers to rent and offer instruction.
“It wasn’t supposed to be ... some big chain music store,” Woo said. “I just wanted to provide the best-quality music lessons in La Jolla. That model doesn’t generate as much profit as you might see other places, but these teachers really do care about their students.”
Horne, a voice and piano teacher, was attracted to La Jolla Music based on the business model Woo created.
“Right now, the teachers get to operate independently, set our own prices and rules,” Horne said.
“I love teaching and I love finding the music kids are passionate about and incorporating that into the lessons,” she said. “I couldn’t find a space to make a living because I wasn’t getting paid enough, but David wants us to be as successful as possible. So he created a model that we want to carry forward.”
“There is nothing like watching people unleash their voice,” she added. “Even if they do nothing more than enjoy the way they sing in the shower or do karaoke, that is a huge change. The voice is so intimate to your being. I love working with beginners and people who have been told they can’t sing. Once they come in and can make some noise and start to sing these basic songs, you watch their confidence grow. They don’t always see it, but I can see the difference. The honor of passing that on is priceless.”
Horne said music instruction goes way beyond the instrument. “The approach I take is that these principles aren’t just applicable to music,” she said. “It doesn’t matter if you make a mistake, because you will make a mistake. So how do you recover from that? ... That is applicable to performances and life.”
Should the teachers succeed in buying the school, Horne wants to keep her classes going but is excited by the prospect of bringing in new teachers and offerings, she said.
If the school is sold to an outside buyer, Horne said, she worries that the new owner may be “solely focused on profit” and less on supporting the instructors.
“Being profit-driven is not necessarily a bad thing, but that could mean rent raises, and some teachers may have to raise their prices or leave,” she said. “They might come in and change the model of the store. ... Most music schools hire teachers and pay them poorly, which reduces the quality of the teachers. We don’t want that.”
Woo said he set the upcoming deadline “because I need to retire.” But should July end with some progress toward raising the money, “I’m happy to negotiate,” he said.
“The goal is for this to go to the teachers,” Woo said. “But if they just can’t get it together, I will have to package it and sell it.”
“I didn’t do this for profit,” he added. “Whether that kind of lightning can strike twice [with a new owner] remains to be seen.”
To learn more about the fundraising effort, go to gofundme.com/f/preserve-la-jolla-music. ◆