Arts / Delaware / Small businesses

How that violin shop with a big-name owner ended up on Market Street

Grammy-nominated guitar player David Bromberg is doing his part to help the revitalization of downtown Wilmington.

Multi-instrumentalist David Bromberg in his Wilmington violin shop. (Photo by Lindsay Podraza)

In New York, David Bromberg often gets recognized as the Grammy-nominated guitar wizard who has collaborated with notables such as George Harrison and Bob Dylan.
In Wilmington, the recognition is a little different.
“I’m the man from the violin shop,” Bromberg said. He doesn’t mind — David Bromberg Fine Violins, which he opened on North Market Street in 2002, has become one of his masterpieces in its own right.
He said he got the idea to open a violin shop when he realized he’d become burnt out from life as a musician: “I decided I didn’t want to be one of those people doing a bitter imitation of something they love.”
In the ’70s, band member Jay Ungar, whom Bromberg called a fiddle genius, inspired him to buy his first — an American-made violin. The purchase turned into a collection for the multi-instrumentalist, and today Bromberg owns 263 violins.
“My wife calls them the world’s most expensive wallpaper,” he joked.

A sampling of the instruments at David Bromberg Fine Violins.

A sampling of the instruments at David Bromberg Fine Violins. (Photo by Lindsay Podraza)

In trailblazing a new career, Bromberg and his wife, sculptor Nancy Josephson, moved from California to Chicago, where he learned the art of violin making. Specifically, he wanted to learn how to distinguish characteristics of specific violin makers.
Unable to stomach another cold Chicago winter, the pair decided it was time to find a new city and start a business. In 2002, they visited a friend in Wilmington. “We saw the city was trying to elevate itself, and it seemed to make a lot more sense to invest what money we had — or could borrow — in a place where things were going to be better,” Bromberg, who was born in Philadelphia, said. “We’re urban pioneers.”
In November of that year, they opened the shop on Market Street, but not without apprehension. “Before I did it, I thought of it as … doing something that felt like diving off a diving board without checking if there was water in pool,” he said. The business was helped with incentives from Wilmington city government.
The storefront did well until the 2008 recession, but Bromberg said this year seems to be the best for business so far, attributing that to the shop’s reputation. Business is mostly local, but he also works with people from around country. Today, three people work in the back to repair instruments and make bows and violins.
Much has happened since 2002: The city continues to work toward reviving downtown, and Bromberg realized that after 22 years, he missed playing music. He’s released three albums since 2007 (and was nominated for a Grammy), and said he’ll release a blues CD sometime soon.
“Wilmington has given me a lot,” Bromberg said. Encountering the friendly people of Delaware has been a highlight, as has making fresh beginnings with the shop and his music career.
“It got me playing music again, being here,” he said. “I’m very grateful for that.”
Indeed, Bromberg and his band will play New Year’s Eve in Wilmington at World Cafe Live at the Queen.
David Bromberg.

David Bromberg. (Photo by Lindsay Podraza)

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