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Sam Ash Music is closing its Clearwater store

Bill DeYoung



The kapok tree standing in front of Clearwater's Sam Ash Music was planted in the 1880s. Photos by Bill DeYoung.

Music retail giant Sam Ash is reportedly closing 18 stores nationwide, including the location at 923 McMullen Booth Road in Clearwater.

Ashen-faced employees taped up signs reading “Liquidation Sale!” and “Everything Must Go!” Monday afternoon. “We found out on Friday that we’re all losing our jobs,” explained a clerk, who did not give his name. A manager also said he could not go on record unless “corporate” allowed it.

Prices have been cut on everything at the musical instrument center. Even the store’s fixtures are for sale.

The building’s owner, Pamela Rubinson, could not be reached for comment. Likewise, calls to Sam Ash headquarters in Hicksville, New York were not returned.

Rubinson and her late husband Elliott purchased the 300-foot-long, domed building in 1992. The Rubinsons operated Thoroughbred Music there for seven years, them leased it to Sam Ash, which originally opened in 1924 and at its peak had over 40 locations.

It was originally the “mall,” the entry building to the internationally-famous Kapok Tree Inn restaurant. Named for the massive Indian tree planted by the side of the road in the 1880s – the tree is still there, in Sam Ash’s front yard – the restaurant was built in 1957 by Richard Baumgardner, a Baltimore musician and restauranteur who’d moved his family to Clearwater.

The “mall” was the entry building to the Kapok Tree Inn, which included 12 elaborately-decorated dining rooms, many with Roman or Greek statuary (some real antiques, some faked at Baumgartner’s shop in the back) and pillars, ornate chandeliers and other European furniture, fixtures, tiles, paintings and ephemera.

From the late 1950s through the ‘70s, this was Pinellas County’s “fancy” restaurant.

The dining rooms, along with the extensive “Renaissance” gardens Baumgartner created to give his guests a one-of-a-kind dining experience, have been maintained by Rubinson and her staff as Kapok Special Events. The company books the ornate facility for weddings, proms, parties and other social gatherings. There is no kitchen.

Richard Baumgardner died in 1976, the same year the Kapok Tree Inn was named one of the top 100 restaurants in United States by Sales and Marketing Management magazine. His widow donated 38 neighboring acres of land to the City of Clearwater for a performing arts venue, later to be named Ruth Eckerd Hall.

A representative at the Sam Ash store in Tampa confirmed the national closures, but said his store, at 13133 N. Dale Mabry Highway, will remain in business.

RELATED READING: Vintage Pinellas: The Kapok Tree Inn

Sam Ash Music (photographed in 2022). Evidence of the Kapok Tree Inn’s “mall” remains.

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    March 7, 2024at9:02 pm

    The prices of musical gear has risen to where you can’t afford anything. Choose from a Gibson Les Paul or a car? Feel bad for the employees.

  2. Avatar

    Mike k Tuttle

    March 6, 2024at3:01 pm

    Bummer, shopped there quite a bit over the years. Probably the most unique music store you’re likely to find. Good luck to the employees.

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