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Durham's Tuba Exchange

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Lee MacDowell traveled to the Tuba Exchange in Durham from Newport, R.I., where he is stationed as a member of Navy Band Northeast. His official classification in the Navy is MU-2, or musician second class. MacDowell was on his own time, seeking out the perfect tuba for his purposes. (If you cannot see the audio player below, download the free Flash Player.)

Ring the bell at 1825 Chapel Hill Road in Durham, and Vince Simonetti will meet you at the door. His professional dress and a small brown splotch of a cranial birthmark suggest Mikhail Gorbachev if he were from New Jersey. Inside, glinting metallic shapes resolve behind him.

Simonetti's complex of bright lemon buildings with white trim and burgundy shutters stands out amid a landscape of crumbling brick, old wood and dingy prefabricated storefronts. Its five buildings are arrayed on two sides of a lane that's barely wide enough for the massive trucks that deliver tubas and their cases—Simonetti's passion—to pass. The building where Simonetti greets visitors houses used instruments for sale alongside a private collection of historic ones, with office space in the back. There's also a service department, a warehouse, a shipment-receiving building and Simonetti's home.

These buildings comprise the Tuba Exchange, which has specialized in tuba trade, repair and distribution for a quarter-century. Because of it, Durham is something of a tuba mecca. The business engages in lively international commerce from its humble post here, specializing in high quality at low prices. In fact, it is (as far as the Simonettis know) the only business of its kind in the country, specializing only in tubas and accepting trade-ins.

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