The economic climate of the past three years has certainly affected the musical instrument business, but not always in the expected ways.
There were rough patches last year. In late October, the New England and New York music store chain Daddy’s Junky Music closed after 39 years in business. Locally, the shuttering affected the store on Central Avenue in Colonie. Independent music stores faced hardship as well — The Rhythm Section, on Mohawk Avenue in Scotia, closed in the summer.
But it wasn’t all doom and gloom. In early 2011, Hermie’s Music Store sales clerk Alan Payette was laid off after 26 years at the business. But Payette learned that Rhythm Section owner Steve Aldi was looking to sell his store.
“The opportunity came up, the previous owner was interested in selling and I knew it,” Payette said, working behind the counter prior to the holidays at what is now Payette’s Music Traders. “So rather than go work for somebody else, I decided to try this. . . . I took possession here on June 9, so it took us about six weeks to get ready.”
So far, Payette has managed to survive at the newly renovated store, relying on low overhead costs, an inventory of mostly used items and customer loyalty over the years to stay afloat.
“Everybody says that they like the way the place looks,” Payette said. “I kind of streamlined it a little, cleaned it up, put some more slot wall in it. And I’ve been stocking it with better quality stuff than he had previously — it was mostly low-end guitars and stuff. And I’m always trying to find Les Pauls and stuff like that. But yeah, it’s been good. From my 26 years at Hermie’s, I carried a lot of people with me, clientele.”
Creating more space
Payette isn’t the only one changing the local music store scene. Two of the region’s bigger local shops expanded last year into new locations.
In early 2011, Parkway Music, a fixture in Clifton Park for the past 18 years, moved to a new building at 1777 Route 9, two miles down the road from its old location. The new building contains the store in the downstairs section and expanded lesson rooms upstairs, and is 5,000 square feet larger than the old site, which was contained within a basement at 1602 Route 9.
“We decided to expand for two reasons,” said Thomas Murphy, who co-owns Parkway with Matt Hatfield. “The obvious — if you were in our old location, [there were] one-way aisles. I mean, there was a charm to having everything jammed in there, you know? But [that’s] not the right way to do it. So that, combined with the fact that renting [was] not ultimately where we wanted to be — we wanted to own our own building, and we didn’t have that option where we were.”
Murphy and Hatfield began seriously considering buying land and building a new store from scratch about three years ago.
“We did some creative financing and were able to obtain the land, and then had the building built,” Murphy said. “At this point, everybody congratulates us on our new building. I say, ‘Well, it’s mostly the banks’ at this point, but we’re working on that.’”
For those familiar with the old store, the difference is obvious. The aisles through the guitar and drum displays are now two-way, and the store is now equipped with multiple soundproof tryout rooms for customers to test equipment before purchasing.
“With gaining the 5,000 square feet — it’s quite a bit of space — each department got a little more space to work with,” Murphy said. “We now have 10 beautiful lesson rooms upstairs that are really nice.”
Though the inventory is roughly the same as it was in the old store, it is continuing to grow at a steady pace — and there is now more room for that to happen.
“We’re masters at filling up spaces, so I think where everything is laid out really nicely now — two-way aisles, lots of room, spacious — I would be fooling myself if I thought it would always stay that way,” Murphy said. “We’ve always been on a very slow and steady growth pace since we started the business.”
Double the room
Drome Sound in Schenectady also found a new home last year, moving into the building that used to house Latham Paint, 1875 State St., a little more than two months ago.
“We needed more space and we wanted to do a lot more with expanding our inventory and stuff,” said Drome Sound’s owner, Tony Popolizio. “So we found this place here, which we bought, and moved here two months ago.”
The store has a long history in the region — it started out as an Albany night club, Ear Drome, in 1968, before switching to a music store in 1970 at the Mohawk Mall, now Mohawk Commons. Over the years, the store experienced ups and downs — at one point there were two locations, one in Schenectady and one in Albany on Central Avenue. The Albany store closed about 10 years ago, and about eight years ago the business moved to a smaller store at 3905 State St. around the time that Popolizio took over from his brother, Frank Popolizio, and cousin, Pat Ragozzino.
The store’s new location has nearly twice as much space as the old store. With the extra room, Drome has expanded its inventory to include Ibanez guitars, Tama drums and Black Star amps. The new location also features a climate-controlled acoustic instrument room, and separate tryout rooms for guitars and drums.
“Customers love the space; they say that it kind of flows nicely,” Popolizio said. “And the building, it’s just a great building for a music store — the ceilings are high, and it’s kind of bright, and it just kind of fits in.”
Business has been going well for all three of these new stores. Payette takes a different approach from the larger stores in the region, keeping things small. He and his wife are the only two employees at Music Traders.
“The way that I’m able to survive is by not getting caught up in — when you take on a line, like a new line like Fender or Gibson, you’re committing to $100,000 or more, which can easily put you behind [right off ] the bat,” Payette said. “Say a place like Parkway, they have to sell in huge volume to cover. . . . They’re great folks, they’re great people, but that is hard to do; it’s very hard to do in this economy.”
Murphy and Hatfield haven’t had any problems staying afloat with their larger locations, however. Drome Sound is also in good shape — in November, the store had its grand opening, giving away a Gibson Les Paul and other new gear in a drawing.
Tryng things out
All three stores credit their success at least in part to the personal approach they are able to give to their customers.
“A guitar or a cymbal, it’s a personal thing,” Popolizio said. “When you buy a guitar, you want to feel it, you want to check it out, you want to see how it fits your hand. Same thing with a cymbal — you want to see if that cymbal’s going to sound, the sound that you’re looking for, and if it’s going to blend in with your other cymbals. And that goes along with a lot of instruments — it has to kind of fit you. So being a brick-and-mortar type music store, it gives you the ability to check it out and actually see if it’s really what you want.”
“From a one-on-one standpoint, I think there’s a lot of people that still find value in that, in service, let’s say,” Payette said. “Going into a place where somebody actually knows about what they’re selling.”