In 2013, Richard Allen, president of Evergreen Workshop, returned to Newport News, his hometown, to open a business offering full service for stringed instruments. Originally an online business, Evergreen’s showroom opened to the public in the summer of 2017. “It is my goal to be a ‘one-stop shop’ for musicians from Richmond to Virginia Beach,” says Allen.
The music business is a second career for Allen. After high school he attended the Apprentice School and was a machinist for 20 years. Then he turned to a second career in music. He graduated from the North Bennett Street School of Violin Making in Boston. From there, he refined his craft by spending many years in the country’s largest violin shops (Massachusetts, Michigan, state of Washington and Washington D.C.).
“With each move, I gained more experience and was able to work with the best people available,” says Allen. “Each place had something to offer. It wasn’t disruptive. It was exciting,” he adds.
Allen plays guitar and violin. “I play for myself,” he says. “I don’t like playing in front of others.” He is still very involved in violin making—a labor-intensive process. “Because of the business, I am tied to my computer too much. I want to get ‘back to the bench,’” Allen says.
A key employee, Melanie Belongia (buh-loan-zhay), says, “I don’t really have a job title.” She is a graduate of the Hartt School of Music and a skilled violin maker and musician. Violins bring classical music to mind, but Belongia enjoys jazz and rock. “A violin can play any kind of music,” she says. Belongia was born in Newport News and has studied in Europe. Italian, German and French traditions are involved in violin making. She is also skilled in violin repair.
“I believe music is an important part of education. Unfortunately, it is not given proper emphasis in schools,” says Belongia. She began taking violin lessons in the fifth grade and was always involved in an orchestra or band. “My whole family is musical,” she says. “Practicing for five hours a day is not unusual,” she adds.
Evergreen offers rental instruments. “A violin is quite expensive,” says Allen. “Parents don’t want to make that investment unless they are certain their child is serious and has potential talent,” he adds. If a violin is purchased, the rental cost is credited. “We contract with teachers and offer lessons for violin, viola and cello,” says Allen. Students range in age from 8 to 78.
There are eight employees, some part-time. The facility includes a room for lessons; a workshop for violin making, repair and restoration; a showroom; and a warehouse. Most sales are still online. Customers are all over the U.S. Products come from all over the world. Sheet music, books, accessories and parts are available. Allen chose the Oyster Point location because of the ample space it offered for the many aspects of his business.
The name “Evergreen” has several connections. Allen particularly likes Barbra Streisand’s 70s hit song “Evergreen.” He has an affection for trees; spruce is used in violin making. In addition, Allen was living in the state of Washington when he began formulating his business plans. And, Washington is the “Evergreen State.”
“I am looking forward to serving the musical community and having personal contact with my customers,” says Allen. “I am proud of our combined experience and want to have the best music shop in the area.”
TO THE POINT
The Evergreen Workshop
Address: 11838 Canon Blvd., Ste. 500, Newport News VA 23606
Contacts: Richard T. Allen, president
Melanie S. Belongia, violin-maker and restorer
Toll free: 866-474-2722
Business: Source for stringed musical products, sales and rentals