Mayor, Kenmore Neighborhood Alliance to dedicate Virgil Lay Way at July 1 Kenmore First Friday event
Lay’s Guitar Shop has been a constant fixture on Akron’s Kenmore Boulevard since the 1960s. Founded by guitar repairman Virgil Lay, it is known around the world for repairing, restoring, customizing, and building guitars and basses belonging to everyone from Joe Walsh and Jimmy Page to The Black Keys. Soon, Lay’s name will adorn a street.
On July 1 at 5:45 p.m. Akron Mayor Dan Horrigan will join representatives from Kenmore Neighborhood Alliance, Lay’s Guitar Shop and SIT Strings in dedicating the Kenmore South Alley as Virgil Lay Way. Cutting the ribbon will be members of Lay’s family, including daughter, Patricia Speedy; granddaughter, Karen Speedy; and grandsons, Brian, Ryan and Eddie Speedy, who is president and owner of SIT Strings, which Lay founded.
The ceremony will take place at the intersection of Kenmore Boulevard’s South Alley and 15th St. and will kick off Kenmore First Friday, a night of live music in the Kenmore Boulevard Historic District featuring bands Big Pop and The Buffalo Ryders on the SIT Strings 15th Street Main Stage. Additionally, Lay’s Guitar Shop will host a guitar workshop and live music on the Main Stage from noon until 5 p.m., and The Electric Company recording studio and the youth-based nonprofit First Glance’s hip-hop program will host live music in the McCutchan Courtyard and Live Music Now Courtyard respectively. Along with live music, the event will offer family activities, food trucks including Macho Nacho and Johnny Lóte’s Latin Street Corn, the Lock 15 Beer Garden and Torchbearers Community Volunteer Fair.
The night will conclude in a surf guitar lover’s dream, when at 9 p.m. The Rialto Theatre is overtaken by local favorites The Beyonderers and Purple k'niF, a New York-based instrumental band featuring The Waitresses founder Chris Butler and Kenmore native Johnny Teagle.
“Before Kenmore Boulevard started evolving into Akron’s Music Row, Virgil Lay was pumping out guitars and strings from the basement of the old Kenmore Coffee Shop. Now, nearly 60 years later, Kenmore Boulevard is home to six recording studios, two guitar shops and a regional live music venue all within a stone’s throw of one another,” said Tina Boyes, executive director of the Kenmore Neighborhood Alliance, the local community development corporation. “July 1 will be a fitting tribute to a legacy that continues to grow with time.”
Virgil Lay poses with Les Paul's famous "Log" guitar.
Virgil Lay was born on January 2, 1927 in Vina, Alabama and moved to Akron in 1946. Lay was an exceptional steel guitar player and first went into business with his brother Ray Lay and Lee East in 1962.
The three founded Staff Music – a guitar retail and repair shop – on High Street in Downtown Akron, but before long Lay realized his business passions were limited to repairing and building guitars, while East’s interests were dominantly in the retail side of the business. Upon amicably dissolving the partnership, East kept the Staff Music name and moved to Canton Road in Ellet, while Lay would establish Lay's Guitar Repair at the corner of 13th St. and Kenmore Blvd.
From left to right: Echoplex inventor Mike Battle, guitar legend Joe Walsh, and Virgil Lay.
In the late 1970’s, while operating his repair business, Virgil began developing a proprietary manufacturing process to enhance the tuning stability of guitar strings. He parlayed this invention into another successful company and founded the “Stay-In-Tune String Company,” or SIT Strings as it’s known today, in 1980.
Before long, SIT Strings had evolved into a global brand, outgrew its corner of Lay’s Guitar Repair and was demanding more and more of Lay’s time. By the end of the 1980s, Lay sold the guitar repair business to Dan Shinn – who had been Lay’s employee since 1979 and still owns the business today – and moved SIT a block away into the building now occupied by Pierre’s Brooklyn Pizza & Deli.
Today, SIT Strings sits on Romig Rd., manufacturers millions of strings per year and counts members of The Black Keys, Shinedown, and Rammstein among its current artists.
Lay passed away March 10, 2009, but his legacy of luring musicians to Kenmore has lived on through Kenmore's many recording studios, live music venues, and guitar shops.
Visit betterkenmore.org/first-friday for the full July 1 Kenmore First Friday "Virgil Lay Day" schedule and more information.