In a sprawling Dubai retail landscape dominated by mega malls and shiny designer outlets, a quaint and cozy 'corner shop' vibe can make for a refreshing change.
Visitors to a small independent music shop off Dubai’s Jumeirah Beach Road often said it felt like it belonged in a sleepy English village from a bygone era.
That is because the 73-year-old owner, Carolyn Belsey Morton, has very much designed it that way.
The Music Room has been a staple of the Jumeirah Beach Centre since 2001, becoming a mainstay during a period of remarkable change for the emirate.
While it would be easy to say the shop is one of Dubai’s best-kept secrets, it has also established a cult following, especially among music teachers in the emirate.
“A lot of customers like to come into the store that feels like a corner shop in a little town in England,” said Ms Belsey Morton.
“It doesn’t matter if someone doesn’t buy something, being able to wander around and browse without being hassled is the whole point of a community music shop.”
Having first moved to the UAE in 1977, Ms Belsey Morton said she has seen many changes in her time in the emirates.
“When I first moved to Dubai you knew everybody. It was like a village then when the country was just six years old,” she reminisces.
It saddens her to see people giving up traditional ways. Life is fast-paced now and people live in their own cocoon but at The Music Room she invites people into the store and chat away as they leisurely browse through the instruments.
The shop has established a loyal following, especially among music teachers in the emirate.
“It’s unlikely you will find a music teacher in Dubai who isn’t aware of us,” she said.
“So many music teachers come here.”
The idea to start The Music Room came to Ms Belsey Morton when she was looking for a break from teaching music in Dubai.
“As a music teacher, at the time, I was aware of how difficult it was to buy music equipment here and most of it had to be ordered from the UK,” she said.
“I looked into it and thought of starting a music shop as I had the right background.”
The best-selling product at the store is sheet music but she also does brisk business by selling clarinets, string instruments, saxophones, recorders and pianos.
Her regular clients are pupils and teachers from British curriculum schools in the country who buy sheet music that is part of the syllabus each year.
“We are privileged here in Dubai because so many schools are private and they all have thriving music departments,” she said.
Ms Belsey Morton said her store harks back to an age when one could find music shops on most UK high streets. This is before the rise of the Internet, which eventually led to them becoming as easy to find as the proverbial hen’s tooth.
She has kept shopping personal and simple like in the good old days. There is no option of click-to-buy on her website and that’s her USP.
“In England, the Internet is killing local music shops,” she said.
“People like the fact that they can make a list, pick up the phone and call us to get what they want.”
Ordering musical sheets in bulk and equipment from the UK to Dubai can be extremely expensive and often unreliable and Ms Belsey Morton fills in the gap by offering a personal touch to the shoppers’ experience.
Ms Belsey Morton also runs a small-scale manufacturing business from the music shop, helping generate revenue during the lean months.
One of the biggest problems with ordering sheet music in bulk to accommodate schools’ curriculums is that any unsold stock becomes irrelevant at the end of the academic year, she said.
“The books are obsolete the minute the exam syllabus changes,” she said.
“It gets very quiet in July as the schools are closed and there are a lot of books we can’t sell, especially the exam papers and revision books.
“What we do is make gift bags out of the unsold sheet music. It’s a bit of a cottage industry,” she said.