Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Rudy's Music Stop


For decades, West 48th Street off Times Square was known as Music Row, a block filled with shops specializing in musical instruments. In the 2000s, we watched the block dwindle, like every other authentic place in this city, until there were two.

Rudy's Music Stop and Alex Music are the last two music shops left on the entire block. And, after years of rumors, soon there will be just one.

Rudy Pensa's original shop, opened in 1978, will be closing in August, employees confirmed.

Over the phone, Rob at the shop told me, "No one buys guitars anymore. This is just one big place for tourists to buy souvenirs."

Rudy's is in a little old building next to another little old building. Every time I see them huddled together, I wonder when they'll be destroyed. The fact that they remain standing feels like a miracle.

I talked to Alex Carozza of Alex Music next door. He will soon be the last of his kind. He told me he has no plans to close. "So far, nobody tells me to get outta here." The rent, however, is "tremendous," and he's not sure how long he'll last.

Alex's building and the empty lot next to it was bought last year for $19 million by Jack Cohen of Comjem Associates, according to The Real Deal. Comjem also acquired the big building on the corner--723 (or 721) 7th Avenue--one of those stalwart old Times Square numbers the color of wet coffee grounds, the kind of building that long held distributors of cowboy movies, film labs, publicists, booking agents, and music studios ("My Boyfriend's Back" and "Hang on Sloopy" were recorded here, and Quad Studios remains).

Comjem also apparently owns Rudy's building, from what I can tell. Alex Carozza expects them to build "something very big," using up all the lots, which total 173,446 square feet.

Back in 2007, Rudy Pensa talked about 48th Street to the Daily News, saying:

"This is a beautiful street, and it should be preserved as it is, a landmark of the city. It has so much history, and it has been like this since the '20s. Somebody should rather pay attention to it before someone comes, buys everything and buries all this beauty to start building glass towers."

Too late. Too late.

Read more:
Music Row
Jon Baltimore
Manny's Music


Scout said...

What has happened to Music Row is a bit sad, but I admit that I never actually bought anything at any of those stores. They were OK for researching what was out there, but the prices were always about 20% higher than any instrument/equipment store out of the city, and the service became increasingly less-informed (and more negligent) over the decades.

And if a seller can't offer competitive pricing or competitive service, how are they to survive?

j said...

Who needs things like music and culture when you have the M&M store?

JAZ said...

It would be absolutely zero exaggeration for me to say that every one of the 50 best books I ever read were books I had no intention of purchasing when I walked into the store; experiencing the culture of the store and like minded lovers of books is what expands your horizons and opens you up to being introduced to things you love. This cannot take place on Amazon or on your fucking iPhone. The reason I bring up books is that the same exact thing holds true for record shops, sheet music stores, and musical instrument shops. The interaction with PEOPLE are the crucial element in all of them, and too few consumers even realize what they're missing. You learn nothing, experience nothing, and never meet some of the best friends you will ever have by not going into the store.

Do people these days really choose to purchase instruments online instead of going into the store, feeling them in their hands, listening to the sound in person, and talking with the guy who has been playing and selling them for 30+ years? Or are they the same brand of scum that go into the bookstore, find something interesting, and then open their phones to amazon and order them online?

Anonymous said...

48th Street was a regular haunt of mine, back in the day, before I left. Back then, in the 80s, both sides of the street were lined with stores, resellers, and upstairs you had makers of every kind of instrument, not to mention make repairs, an art in itself. RIP 48th Street, you had 80 good years though.

Anonymous said...

A friend of mine who owns 10+ guitars sez:
"No one buys guitars at Rudy's because they're fucking dickheads there"

Wessays (tm) said...

I can't remember how many hours I spent on that block. But it's in the thousands. I've outlived most of the friends I met there.

Anonymous said...

48th Street was like a fantasy land when I was a kid. Just looking at the stuff in the window at We Buy Guitars was enough to blow my mind. And then I'd check out the beautiful custom basses at Rudy's, and go across the street to Manny's and look at all the signed pictures and check out the amps. And then maybe go around the corner to the Metropole or head over to Show World. Make a day of it!

Unknown said...

People can hate all they want but Rudy and Alex and Henry across the street were always helpful, patient and gracious. Anyone who complains ablaut customer service and prices is welcome to go to Guitar Center ( which is partially owned by Bain Capital and Ares Management.

swine said...

Just passed Mary Ann's on 8th & it looks closed & gone. Sniff.

Walter said...

Sam Ash once sold me a synthesizer as new. Something I had tagged in the store. They told me it wasn't in stock right now but it would be coming in shortly. 2 days later I get a call telling me it had arrived. It was all packed up so I didn't wanna bother to unwrap it and check it out. When I got home, the first thing I did was look under the high 'C' key and what did I find...the very tag I applied.

Anonymous said...

Lived in NYC in 1980s-90s; in Austin, TX since late '90s. Used to go up to Music Row to see "what was there," but the prices were too steep for me. Sham Ass - I mean, Sam Ash - in particular seemed like a place where pros would go and get preferential treatment; that it was oriented to players who were above a certain line, professionally or financially - but maybe I was just a deadbeat indie rocker.

Anyone in NYC who claims that "nobody buys guitars anymore" should see Austin, TX, where everyone seems to play guitar and nothing else, and the overabundance of broke musicians means that the pawn shops are flooded with decent electrics marked-down, or talked-down, to $100-$200, and as little as $1,000 in cash could possibly outfit a four-piece rock band.

But get this: though I live in Git-ar Town, with pawn shops and cool guitar stores like South Austin Music going strong, I buy my guitars, mics and other small gear (including picks and strings) mail-order via Musician's Friend - because of the prices, and not having to put up with snooty or hard-selling jerks - I mean, clerks.

Anonymous said...

Began playing woodwinds and guitar in the late 1950s and put myself through college playing session gigs in the city. Fully a quarter of my current collection of 400+ guitars and basses came from shops on 'the Street', including Rudy's. I always enjoyed combing the shops for rarities over the years, along with meeting and discussing gear with other musicians from everywhere, something that will be missed. Buying an instrument is a personal exercise that cannot be done online. RIP Music Row, gone the same way as Radio Row four and a half decades earlier.

Martin said...

You needed to be in The Associated Musicians of Greater New York, American Federation of Musicians Local 802, as I am, to get good prices on 48th.

Rudy also has a store in Soho.

Truth is when Rock died, so did 48th street.....

L' Americana said...

Oldest NYC trick in the book...happens in old Italy too.