‘Fairly unscathed’: Berkeley instrument store Lark in the Morning sells online amid pandemic

lark in the morning
Lark in the Morning/Courtesy
Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Berkeley instrument store Lark in the Morning has continued to sell specialized instruments from around the world on its online website.

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Lark in the Morning, a musical instrument store in Berkeley specializing in rare and unusual instruments from around the world, has shifted to online operations amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Lark in the Morning’s online store, Irish frame drums, Romanian balalaikas and Native American flutes can be found for sale — so can percussion instruments known as African thumb pianos, kalimbas and gyalings, which are traditional woodwind instruments from Tibet.

Originally founded in 1974 as a mail order business by Celtic musician Mickie Zekley, Lark in the Morning once had storefronts in San Francisco, Seattle and Mendocino, according to its website. In 2017, the business — then operating entirely online — was bought by Eric Azumi, who opened the Berkeley storefront in the same year.

According to Azumi, Lark in the Morning has been “fairly unscathed” by the pandemic, because even before it occurred, about 70% of store revenue came from the online store. Azumi added that although the store is not quite breaking even yet, its online sales have slightly increased.

A new challenge, however, is sourcing its instruments from around the world.

“It’s been much more difficult for us to get supplies because we deal with mostly world instruments coming from all over the world,” Azumi said. “Nothing has been coming out of India, Pakistan or Turkey.”

Azumi added that he hopes the store’s backordered instruments will arrive in time for the Christmas season.

While Lark in the Morning already had a robust online presence before the pandemic, Azumi is unsure how the physical store might operate after it reopens. Customers were previously able to try any instrument in the store, including woodwind instruments that had a special cleaning protocol, Azumi added.

“We’ll probably have to be extra diligent about that, but touching them is a part of trying out guitars and picking up drums and playing them,” Azumi said. “I don’t know how long people are going to feel scared of sharing germs.”

Besides selling instruments and sourcing free musical recordings on its website, Lark in the Morning also features Lark Camp on its website — an annual family-friendly gathering in Mendocino that Zekley continues to run through the Lark Traditional Arts nonprofit.

Over a week, participants can take musical workshops, join jam sessions and dance into the night, according to Lark Camp’s website. This year, the event was replaced by Virtual Lark Week — a series of events that included virtual workshops, performances and happy hours from Aug. 3-7.

For Azumi, however, the virtual events cannot compare to camping and playing music in the Redwoods.

“It’s an amazing experience,” Azumi said. “600 people from all over the world get together in the woods and off the grid.”

Contact Jessica Li at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @JessicaLi57.