27 January 2015
London’s oldest violin shop thrives with passion

By Shuya Wang

LONDON — In front of an old red door, Richard White sees off a boy holding a big suitcase. It was raining. He passed an umbrella to the boy, tapped his left shoulder and wished him a safe trip back to Ireland. The boy gave him a big smile as if they were old friends.

Co-owner of J.P. Guivier & Co., one of the oldest string instrument shops in London, White treats all his customers as friends.

White has been working here for nearly 30 years. “I was aware of the existence of the company when I was playing violin in the school orchestra,” said White.

Established in 1863, the company moved to Regent Street in 1947, where White worked as a salesman after graduation. When the former owner retired, he was asked if he wanted to be one of the co-owners. White took the chance.

“I’m not a good violinist,” said White, laughing. But he has been obsessed with violin making ever since he started working in the shop. “It’s fascinating that different materials can make totally different sounds of the violins, and that really interests me,” he said.

The company now has four floors. In addition to selling string instruments and accessories, it also built a two-floor violin repair workshop for its six workers.

Occasionally, White spends time in the workshop, repairing violins. “It takes time and patience to fix violins. It’s a fine work, but I just enjoy it,” he said.

White also decorated a playing room in the second floor. “Sometimes my customers and I will play violins here together. It’s really nice, you know, we are more than seller and buyer, we are friends,” said White.

The shop receives customers from all over the world and can be very busy. White is proud of that. “We are the oldest violin company in London and we have this reputation of offering high-quality service with low price. Customers love us,” said White.

He said some famous violinists are also his customers and he sometimes receives free concert tickets as thank-you gifts.

White’s daughter loves playing the violin but White said he was not sure if he would hand down the shop to his daughter after retirement. “We are not a family business at the beginning after all. I don’t care who will be the next shop owner as long as he or she loves violin,” said White.