Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Music Row

It's been awhile since I took a walk on Music Row, that block of West 48th Street once known for its many shops full of instruments, sheet music, and men (mostly) who knew how to build and repair.

A year ago, the Post reported that, after 50 years here, and ever expanding, Sam Ash would be leaving the block and moving to 34th Street. This meant leaving several empty storefronts behind. Sam Ash held so much real estate here, including the more recently taken over Manny's Music, their move effectively killed the block.

Walking on Music Row today is like walking through a ghost town. Sam Ash's empty storefronts, once capped with red awnings, are empty, white-painted hollows, each covered by a roll-down gate--and they run for much of the block. It looks like urban blight.

Demolition has begun for an incoming condo building. A Dunkin Donuts is "Now Open" in what had been Rod Baltimore's New York Woodwind & Brass Music shop.



Rod Baltimore had been doing business on the block for about 50 years. In an interview with WNYC just last year he said that "he'll never retire" and "made sure the store on Music Row will outlive him. 'If I do go to the happy hunting ground, so to speak, if I go up to heaven or if I go down, I don't know where I'm going yet, the store goes to the employees, whoever's working at the time,' he said."

I don't know what happened to Mr. Baltimore and his store, why it's now a Dunkin Donuts. Baltimore's website and Facebook page has not been updated in quite some time.

In 2007, I interviewed his son, Jon Baltimore, in the family's original shop on 48th Street. He was forced to close in 2009 and moved nearby to 46th.

So what's left?

There are just two buildings on this block that still contain music shops. There's one slender brick building for Rudy's, and another for Alex Carozza's accordion shop.

Inside Carozza's, you can visit the Accordion Museum, a little showroom filled with beautiful antique accordions. Alex is a nice guy, and he'll tell you about the accordions there, each one an intricate work of art.

Rudy's has been here since 1978, and while I sometimes hear rumors of their closure, no one at the shop has ever confirmed it.

Music lover Jarrod Lynn is hoping to landmark the block. He started a Facebook page for it and tells me, "It's one of those New York places that I was sure was sacred. The thought of it being destroyed is almost totally incomprehensible to me."

But destruction is the block's most likely future. New York really needs more luxury condos and chain stores.

Also read:
Talking with Jon Baltimore
Closure of Manny's
Strip Street


Mykola ( Mick) Dementiuk said...

Bought my Acoustic Gibson in Manny's on 48th St in the late 1960s. Graham Nash was buying his that day too. Boy, was that a block for guitarists to be in. I still have my old Gibson.

Anonymous said...

It's never going to end is it. But then again...why would New York need music shops anymore? Musicians just starting out and even working musicians can't even afford to live here any longer. Not to mention that most of the music clubs, at least downtown, are all gone. Even though this town has a legendary reputation for catering to the arts it no longer functions as such. It's caters to consumerism, period. It's like scorched earth out here.

Anonymous said...

I spent a lot of time on this block. At Manny's and later Sam Ash. While Colony had a better selection of sheet music, Sam Ash didn't charge over-retail prices for it. It's sad but not surprising that the block has turned over. So much is done online now, midtown is not a music haven, the gentrified Times Square is around the corner - too many things to make it impossible to keep 48th Street a music row. Sam Ash moved to 34th across from another major pro audio retailer - B&H.

Ed said...

It sounds like its already been destroyed. You can and may want to preserve the buildings, but no one has ever figured out a way to keep the businesses.

Did the stores just vanish, were they swallowed up by one chain, or did they move to other parts of the city? The post implies a mixture of all three. Are there new stores selling musical items that are newly opened elsewhere? I think the latter point is the key. Businesses die all the time, but for only a decade the new stuff fits only two or three business models.

Anonymous said...

What I would like to know is what happened to all the amazing autographed photos at Manny's. Were they archived or auctioned off? I loved going in there just to look at them. Its a shame the property is worth so much money these great little places just cave in and take the money. But thats the reality of the times

Eric said...

What happened was over the years Sam Ash swallowed up most the other stores. First it was the "WE BUY GUITARS" on the north side of the street. (I think the owner got a neurological disease and went out of business). Then Alex Music went down, then the Electro Harmonix storefront, and another and finally Manny's succomed to Sam Ash's dominance. When Sam Ash left there was very little left.

Anonymous said...

I first visited music row in 2007 and remember even back then I had the feeling that decline had already begun. When Sam Ash took over it seemed pretty clear to me that it would be a question of time until the remaining independent stores would have to close. I did not expect that Sam Ash would move out completely that soon. In the late 80ies/early 90ies ESP still had a custom shop there and Pensa Suhr also was on the block. This must have been glorious times for music shoppers. But the picture is similar in a lot of cities, also here in Germany. Small independent stores have vanished and a few very large retailers who make the majority of there money via the internet have taken over.....

Mitch said...

As others had noted, by the end it was mostly Sam Ash, and so when they departed there wasn't much left. On the bright side the store on 34th St is just as big as the combined storefronts in the old locations.

I went to the new store a few months ago and had a conversation with one of the employees. He told me that the employees liked the new store and that, due to the different location, they had a different crowd than at the old place.

If you think about it, the sheet music business is nearly impossible to sustain in the age of the internet. You can go online and buy just about anything, so how can a place that has to rent real-estate compete? The instrument business is tough too, but at least people want to see, hold, try instruments before they buy them.

Sinestra said...

Who needs real music and real musicians in this sanitized, bland "modern" city where all we need to do is look up music on our smartphones, music that is as bland, fake and sanitized as this city is becoming?
It's sad that NYC, one of the top creative culture capitals of the world cannot sustain anything but condos, frat bars and "luxury" boutiques that offer nothing that you'll ever remember for more than the time it takes to walk past them.

Anonymous said...

WHere is David Lynch when you need him?

Anonymous said...

Did someone say David Lynch?


Anonymous said...

NYC is dead. Every day there's a new story like this popping up. The soul has been completely usurped out of this town.

Anonymous said...

Speaking of David Lynch....here is a video of the last guitar in Manny's:


Anonymous said...

In 1979 after I immigrated to the US my father bought me my first electric guitar from Manny's music. In 1980 after working my first summer job, I traded in my first electric guitar and with money I earned from my summer job, bought another electric guitar from Manny's music. I still have that guitar. It seems like gentrification is happening everywhere and like one comment states "Like NYC needs more condos and chain stores". The Mom and Pop business are being killed off and that's sad!!

Unknown said...

Heartbreaking. Used to go by all the time in the mid - late 70's after school (Bx science 'D' train to Rock Ctr). And check out all the Strats and Les Pauls and fuzz bozes (MXR, Ross, Electro-Harmonix).

Bought my first "real" guitar there (1977 Strat - still have it!) Summer '79.

Went back a few years ago and it was mostly gone already. So sad.

Anonymous said...

I worked on 48th st@ Silver& Homeland music
I knew Rod Baltimore, Richard Silver, Art Shell
Rudy when he worked for Alex, I could go on and on.
It's a shame that retail exspantion is More important than history.
I meet so many major artist in those days it was like a movie every day.
The city should do something to save and preserve the history of 48th street

Paul F. said...

In 1995 We Buy Guitars sold the lease to Sam Ash Music. Richard then went on to buy Rare Vintage guitars for their 45 stores for ten years. We Buy Guitars LLC then re
opened in Bellmore NY. Webuyguitars.org The rent was too high on that street and the Rockefeller organization wanted to build office buildings. They owned most of the buildings for many years before the closing of Music Row.