Great Barrington — The Internet has dealt yet another fatal blow to a local business, and this one will have us all out of tune in a jiffy.
The Music Store, which for more than 16 years has kept a very musical Berkshire County strung and tuned, and whose instruments have happily filled many a local home with music, will close this month unless someone new decides to buy the inventory and keep it going.
“We’re hoping someone young will come in and think outside the box,” said Claudia d’Alessandro, who owns the store and runs it with her partner David Reed.
She wishes they didn’t have to. But shopping habits have changed, and now people come into the store, take photos, then Google away for the best price. d’Alessandro says she understands; she shops on Amazon, too.
“It breaks our hearts,” she said. “We love what we’ve done here, both of us.”
Music is in both of them, and with a passion. d’Alessandro, a photographer, is the daughter of opera star Phyllis Curtin, who died last summer. While Reed is a psychotherapist, he’s also a professional musician and instrument builder. He teaches guitar and trumpet.
But as always, the ledger has to balance out. “As the actual spending patterns [of customers] have changed, it is impossible to be profitable the way we’re set up now.”
Reed says the store needs a “younger, hipper shop owner” who can really work social media and have a new approach. “We don’t know how to negotiate those things,” he said. “We’re not that savvy.”
“And we’re tired,” d’Alessandro said.
They did try an online business, but found it more trouble than it was worth as they ran into the weeds with duplicitous customers regarding “broken” instruments, etcetera.
Another idea was to focus on selling locally made instruments, but that didn’t find much purchase. It didn’t matter to customers “a whit,” Reed said.
“When I was growing up here you could buy anything you wanted or needed in Great Barrington for any aspect for daily living, though maybe not with every option available,” d’Alessandro added.
She has tried hard to work with the situation. “I match Internet prices for most instruments, I’m competitive, but things like strings and smaller things, you can buy for a great deal less online.”
This modern retail environment is not pretty. “Music books written by local people are cheaper to get from Amazon then from their own publishing houses,” she said. “And I can buy a great many of my smaller items from my competitors online than from my own distributors.”
Another loss here will be that peaceful feeling, knowing you have a place to get help for your child who plays the violin and you don’t, or working out some problem with an instrument.
“There used to be a time when I felt service really mattered,” d’Alessandro said. “I expected to pay for an item and also the expertise and assistance. “People will often come in and say they want the online deal. If there’s a problem [online] you can return it, but there’s no one who can help you.”
Even their garbage man comes to them with instruments he finds in the trash and asks them to fix just because he can’t stand to see them dumped.
The culprit isn’t just Amazon Prime, d’Alessandro noted. The Main Street reconstruction project of last year took the biggest bite out of sales as it snarled the roads and made being downtown a downright pain. “In the worst month sales were 65 percent down,” she said, with the average dips being around 25 percent. “We never came back from that.”
They did, however have a good 2016 Christmas season, “marginally better than last year.”
d’Alessandro and Reed also say locals are avoiding downtown over traffic, parking and the lack of what they need to buy at the right price. “They’re saying they don’t go downtown unless they really have to,” d’Alessandro said.
Reed says d’Alessandro has wrestled with this decision. “She hasn’t slept in weeks, and it is compounded with multiple losses in Claudia’s life.”
But d’Alessandro says she knows closing down will be a real blow to the community. “I feel really bad for the people who have been remarkably loyal and marvelous — a number of local musicians.”
Though she was always surprised and dismayed by the number of local musicians who never bought so much as a guitar pick from the store.
“Maybe there’s someone out there at the 11th hour,” d’Alessandro said. “I don’t want the community to lose their music store. It’s a turnkey business.” She also said the space next door is available, smaller and more affordable — the store could be moved.
She will sell only the inventory “at a little better than wholesale cost.” This won’t be a “fire sale,” however.
And if no one turns up to take over, that liquidation will start this Wednesday (January 4), and will go to the end of the month. She said normal store pricing is 30 to 40 percent off the list price, and “each week we’ll do better than that.”
“The doors will close on January 31— we want it completely empty.”
Reed says it’s pretty clear that what’s happened here is just another example of modern consumerism and instant gratification in the way people –– especially young people –– “consume music.”
“Instruments require an investment of time to learn,” he said.