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Samash

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By HILDY MEDINA

Staff Reporter

An East Coast megastore is posing a new threat to local music store giant Guitar Center, with plans to open four stores in Southern California by the middle of the year ? including one down the street from Guitar Center’s Hollywood flagship.

Sam Ash Music, a 74-year-old private retail chain based in Hicksville, N.Y., is virtually unknown among non-musicians on the West Coast, but that doesn’t concern company Vice President Sammy Ash, grandson of the founder.

“We’re very careful about the markets we choose,” said Ash. He cites the company’s successful expansion in Miami as an example of how to become a hit in new territory.

“We’re competing quite effectively there and we matured much faster than we ever expected We’ve been looking at California half-heartedly for two years and we finally said last year, ‘We’ve got to do this.’ ”

Sam Ash’s $11 million West Coast expansion began in January with the opening of a store in Westminster, followed by the debut last month of a 22,000-square-foot outlet in Cerritos. The Sunset Boulevard locale is expected to open in June and a Canoga Park store will open next month, bringing the total number of stores nationwide to 20.

Guitar Center, which was founded in 1964 and went public about a year ago, has 38 stores, mostly in California, Texas, Florida and the Northeast. The flagship is on Sunset Boulevard’s Rock Walk, a tourist attraction that enshrines the handprints of musical celebrities.

Lauren Levitan, an analyst at BancAmerica Robertson Stephens, says that an overlap in merchandise will occur but she doesn’t “expect it to have a severe impact on (Guitar Center).”

“Sam Ash caters more to the hobbyist and the youth market. Those are things that are not really addressed by the Guitar Center,” said Levitan. “Their focus is on the professional and the aspiring musician.”

Bruce Ross, Guitar Center’s chief financial officer, said he isn’t worried about the increased competition.

“We’ve established ourselves nationwide as the price leader,” said Ross. “Sam Ash is unheard-of here.”

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