ROCKPORT — From police calls to a petitioning town officials, a Peruvian musician and his music have caused a stir for other shop owners on the popular tourist spot, Bearskin Neck.
Sergio Espinoza, the Peru native who moved to America in 1991, opened his shop, Inkas Wasi on Bearskin Neck in July.
He said Thursday that, about two weeks after opening, he began hearing calls and complaints about the noise level of his music.
Espinoza plays the siku, also known as a pan flute. But opponents say the type of music is not the issue; it’s the noise level. And the controversy has led Espinoza to confine his pan flute performances to Dock Square and the far end of Bearskin Neck, near My Place By The Sea.
The music coming from the shop and musicians playing music has drawn a police response six times, Espinoza said; it also prompted a petition, and stirred an estimated 30 people, including several shop owners, to approach the Board of Selectmen Monday.
“I don’t want to fuel any fires, I don’t want to push my agenda,” Daniel Desmond, co-owner of the Asian Inspiration Gallery, which sits directly across from Espinoza’s shop, said Thursday.
Desmond said the music funnels into his shop and it has affected his business — and he’s not alone.
Peter Russell of James Russell Goldsmiths, a bit further down Bearskin Neck, said he has owned six stores throughout New England spanning decades, from Rockport to Rhode Island. Russell and others said they have asked Espinoza to turn down the music in his shop, but the problem has persisted.
“I’ve literally seen it all,” Russell said. “I’ve never encountered this kind of reluctance from a shop owner.”
On the weekends, Russell said, the music was going on for eight to 10 hours a day.
“It’s not a question of what musical tastes are,” he said.
Espinoza, on the other hand, said he has been as accommodating as possible.
He has turned the music down when asked before, including when asked by police.
“They insist, still, it’s loud,” he said, adding that when he would turn down his music, shop owners still complained
A day after a police officer responded to the noise complaint, he said, another shop owner would phone police, even when it was at a reasonable level, Espinoza said — adding that he wished shop owners would address him first rather than the police.
Espinoza said he did not want to come to America to get into arguments with neighbors.
“I’m a family man, I’m a musician,” he said. “I try to make Inkas Wasi a museum.”
The shop currently offers CDs, maracas and pan flutes, along with paintings and trinkets from the Andes.
Espinoza and another musician have gotten one outdoor performer permit each from Rockport.
An outdoor performer’s permit comes with a price tag of $30, and a performer can play by Dock Square, the end of Bearskin Neck or any other location with permission from the Board of Selectmen.
Espinoza’s permit states he intended to play bamboo flutes, with very low amplification in front of his store. Another musician got a similar permit, so each could play two days a week. In general, Espinoza said, they were playing outside the shop Thursday through Sunday.
“I just feel disappointed about the whole situation,” Espinoza said. “I’m not even angry.”
Monday night, when shop owners showed up in front of the Board of Selectmen, Espinoza said officials politely asked him to play his music only in Dock Square and the tip of Bearskin Neck. His permits are valid through October of this year.
The soft background music and the fluttering of the pan flute did extend out onto the Bearskin Neck roadway when Espinoza demonstrated his musical ability Thursday, but got harder to hear further down Bearskin Neck.
Yet Leslie Asare said she can hear the music at her shop, Joncien, on 25 Bearskin Neck. Inkas Wasi is on 10 Bearskin Neck.
Asare said the rules are clear: the outdoor performance rules, she said, were put in place so someone walking by Dock Square or a spot on Bearskin Neck can hear music, then walk away.
“What is not the point, is to use that music as a draw to get people into your store,” she said, adding that the issue could open up a Pandora’s Box on the shopping strip.
“He’s a very nice man and I’m sure he plays a very nice instrument,” she said. But while other shop owners play music inside their shops, Asare said music coming from Inkas Wasi was so loud some people had to close their windows.
Since Monday’s meeting, Espinoza said he has limited the pan flute playing to Dock Square and the tip of Bearskin Neck as requested.
Selectmen Paul Murphy, who has tried to “keep the character of Bearskin Neck intact,” said the Monday night meeting was emotional at times, but all seemed content by its end. Murphy was one of the officials who worked on increasing outdoor display fines if the bylaws were broken — an idea that drew support from some shop owners on Bearskin Neck. Voters passed the measure at an Annual Town Meeting.
Murphy said he doesn’t view scaling back Espinoza’s music as a sign the town is anything but business-friendly.
“We just want Rockport to remain the beautiful place that is has for decades,” he said. “We want to attract people to Rockport and places throughout town.”
At the tip of Bearskin Neck, restaurateurs Kathy Milbury and Barbara Stavropoulos of My Place By the Sea said the music is a non issue.
Stavropoulos noted other musicians in Dock Square play music as well — sometimes with lights and amplifiers — but shop owners like Espinoza pay rent to be on the shopping strip and employ people, benefiting the town.
“I just think he’s getting bullied down there,” Milbury said. “Who wants to see an empty storefront?”
Milbury said she thinks the music is inviting.
“It’s like walking by an Italian restaurant and smelling garlic,” she said.
James Niedzinski can be reached at 978-283-7000, x 3455 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.