Recessions may come and go, but at Drome Sound, one of the Capital Region’s most popular music stores for 40 years now, owner Tony Popolizio and his staff are still hitting all the right notes.
“I think the economy has affected everyone, but fortunately it really hasn’t made any major impact on us,” said Popolizio. “We knew it was gonna hit, and I think everybody was a bit surprised. But here we kind of worked around the whole thing. We lowered our margins, we brought in items that people could afford rather than a lot of the high-end stuff, and we kept our prices low.”
Drome Sound is also a one-stop shopping destination for anyone looking to either buy, rent or fix equipment, as well as for those aspiring to become musicians and are looking for lessons.
“We weathered the recession, and we’re still weathering it because we have a lot of different things to offer people,” said Popolizio. “To make it all work we had to lower our profit margin and price things so people can afford them with their out-of-pocket cash.”
Popolizio hasn’t had to lay off any of the seven employees on his staff, and he continues to operate a studio at 3610 State St., not too far from the store at 3905 State St., where some of the area’s best musicians give lessons on a part-time basis.
“We have 10 different teachers, so we have a wide range of people offering lessons for a number of different instruments,” said Popolizio. “We have some very talented people at our studio.”
One of them is Ed Munger, a well-known guitarist in the Capital Region and vice president of the Schenectady Musicians Union. According to Munger, there has been a slight dip in the number of lesson requests he and his group of musicians have received in the past year.
“People may give you a different excuse for dropping or for not taking a lesson, but you know it’s also the money,” said Munger. “We’ve felt it, but a lot of us have been around for a while and we’ve been through this before. It will turn around.”
Music is important enough, according to Munger, that people will go to great lengths to keep it a big part of their lives.
“The parents will give up other things to make sure they have the money for their kids’ lessons, and the kids really want to get involved in the stage band and other things at school so they want the private lessons to help them prepare for it,” said Munger. “Our musicians’ union, in conjunction with Proctors, also helps supply used instruments to the kids at school, and that’s the sort of thing Drome Sound will always get involved in. They have some great teachers there, and they really care about the music.”
(Ed Munger’s name may sound familiar even to Gazette readers who are not musicians — his son, Edward Munger Jr., is a reporter for the newspaper.)
It was Popolizio’s older brother Frank and his cousin Pat Ragozzino who loved music enough to realize the need for a music store in Schenectady in 1969. They opened Drome Sound in the same building as the Aerodrome on State Street, a hot night spot and concert venue that drew big names like Janis Joplin, Led Zeppelin, Vanilla Fudge and others during its four-year run from 1968-72.
“They were booking bands and doing all kinds of jobs there, and I was just a little bit too young to get involved,” said Tony Popolizio. “But it was all happening back then, and they both felt there was a need for a good music store that would sell all kinds of equipment. My brother was also working for the General Electric when he quit and started the music store.”
Drome Sound is now in its fourth location; its downtown Albany branch closed about 10 years ago.
“My brother Vince was the manager of that store, and the family ran it for about 30 years right on Central Avenue between Quail and Lake Avenue,” said Popolizio. “When we first bought it we thought it was a beautiful location and it was. But then things changed and Vince retired. Now our only location is our store [just outside of] Schenectady.”
Tony became owner of the store and its president five years ago when his brother Frank retired.
“We’re still a family-run store, and we advertise as a family-run, locally owned store,” said Popolizio.
One key ingredient in the Drome Sound success story is faith in their customers. When Bob Istorico, currently lead guitarist for The Refrigerators, was just starting out in the music business, the folks at Drome Sound were a huge help to him.
“When you’re a self-employed musician your credit rating is zero, and when I was a young and striving musician they helped me out by giving me equipment,” said Istorico, an Albany native and Niskayuna resident. “They would let me pay on time, and that’s what really helped me get my bands off the ground when I was younger.”
According to Istorico, the time Frank Popolizio and Ragozzino spent doing various jobs at Aerodrome ended up serving their business very well.
“They were janitors at the Aerodrome, but they got to know a lot of musicians and they got to know them very well,” said Istorico. “They learned what kind of equipment the best musicians really liked, and as a result they brought to the area a legitimate music store. They had all the brands that the best bands were using that you couldn’t find around here. Before Drome Sound you had to go down to New York to get that kind of equipment.”
Popolizio said his store’s two biggest competitors are Hermies Music Store in Schenectady and the Guitar Center on Wolf Road in Colonie. Both places also have stores in Clifton Park, and he expects all of them to make it through this recession.
“I think people are being a little more optimistic now, and I really believe things will get better,” he said. “It’s not over with yet, but people love music, and we’ll get through this.”