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Heather Bellow
Claudia d'Alessandro, owner of The Music Store in Great Barrington, with her partner David Reed. After 16 years in business, The Music Store is closing at the end of January.

Music Store to close, crushed by online shopping, local downturn

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By Tuesday, Jan 3, 2017 Trade and Commerce 28

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.

The interior of The Music Store, with its array of instruments. Photo: Heather Bellow

The interior of The Music Store, with its array of instruments. Photo: Heather Bellow

“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.

The Music Store on upper Railroad Street.

The Music Store at 87 Railroad Street.

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.”

Locally crafted ukeleles awaiting eager musicians. Photo: Heather Bellow

Ukeleles, some locally crafted, await eager musicians. Photo: Heather Bellow

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.”

David Reed and Claudia d'Alessandro at The Music Store counter. Photo: Heather Bellow

David Reed and Claudia d’Alessandro at The Music Store counter. Photo: Heather Bellow

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.

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28 Comments   Add Comment

  1. Steve Farina says:

    Though I only recently have met them, Claudia and David are two very sweet people. I hope that wherever life takes them next it is filled with peace and joy.

    1. Claudia d'Alessandro says:

      Thanks so much, Steve!

  2. John Prusinski says:

    I’ve relied on the Music Store and always enjoyed the conversations I’ve had with Claudia and David when I stopped in. It’s a real heartbreaker that they have to close. What they say about the changing character of the town is true… I’m one of the locals who finds myself less and less often downtown, as the places I used to frequent close and are replaced by high-priced boutiques catering mainly to tourists. Fingers crossed for the Music Store, but if they have to close, I’ll miss them!

    1. Glenn Geiger says:

      Well said, John.

      1. Claudia d'Alessandro says:

        Thanks, Glenn.

    2. Claudia d'Alessandro says:

      Thank you, John. We will miss being there.

    3. David says:

      Thank you for your kind words.

  3. Jerry Posner says:

    A great loss for Great Barrington. Wishing Claudia and David much happiness in their next chapter! ❤

    1. Claudia d'Alessandro says:

      Thanks so much, Jerry.

  4. Shawn G. says:

    Do they give lessons at the store?

    1. Claudia d'Alessandro says:

      No, Shawn. We never did.

  5. Joan Ury says:

    so sad -sorry to see it close!

    1. Claudia d'Alessandro says:

      We, too.

  6. Julie D. says:

    Got my first instrument there this year, and came back for an upgrade. Loved the service. Sorry to hear this news.

    1. Claudia d'Alessandro says:

      I’m so glad it has been a success, Julie! May your playing days continue to bring happiness!

  7. SC says:

    I had a couple of purchases to make at the store recently and honestly couldn’t find a parking space. I bought my daughters’ books online because I was circling for 20 minutes and then got kicked out of my spot that had apparently recently turned into private tenant parking by a kind of aggressive guy who seemed like he was watching from his window. I know that this is a tangent somewhat, but the parking issue jumps off of the page for me here. I wish that we could come up with a real solution for this because while I can walk to town from my home in warmer months, it’s not always an option year round. I’m sorry to see this business go, and I have heard wonderful things about the owners over the years and I hope that they find vibrant rest, contentment, and good fortune ahead! I will be sure to visit for the sale if I can find a parking spot!

    1. Claudia d'Alessandro says:

      I’m so sorry, SC. The fellow upstairs probably was just trying to protect tenant parking; it is not uncommon for tenants to come home to find someone ELSE in the spots that they pay for. Sometimes we have people – not our customers – parked out front (legal parking) all day. We grumble. But with fewer on-street parking places, and more privatized lots it really is hard to find space. Many thanks for your kind wishes! (And we wish you particular good luck with parking!)

  8. Bonne says:

    Wishing them the best. But I don’t go in the stores anymore in downtown. Can’t afford it. Times have changed alot. Nothing like it used to be. This place has turned into a tourist town and only the rich and well off can afford it. It’s a shame because it used to be great here

    1. Claudia d'Alessandro says:

      So many of us are sad. We have prided ourselves on competitive pricing on most of our instruments for years. One lady recently spent hours with us asking about instruments then returned weeks later to tell us that she had bought, one of the models that we had shown her, on line. She delightedly told us what she had paid. When I pointed out that we sell that model for $20 LESS (a price clearly listed on the tag), she was amazed and said that she hadn’t ‘paid attention’ and ‘just assumed that it was cheaper on line.’ Ah well. Thanks for the kind wishes. We happily look forward to new things.

      1. Michael Roth says:

        You can’t fix stupid, but thanks for trying!

  9. Christina Jaguar says:

    Phooey! Now how will I find Claudia when its time to go out for a second breakfast?

    1. David says:

      Just ring the bell.

    2. Claudia d'Alessandro says:

      Dear Lady, you will always know where to find me. I am always findable for second breakfast.

      1. Jerry Posner says:

        Breakfast? Count us in!

  10. Barry Konowitz says:

    As a manufacturer’s rep, it was one of my favorite stops. Sad to see this happening.

    1. Claudia d'Alessandro says:

      We feel enormously fortunate to have enjoyed the acquaintance of many wonderful instruments from many different sources over the years. And we will miss seeing reps like you who became ‘old’ friends. Cheers!

  11. Tamara Polk says:

    Although we live in Ct., it was always a pleasure to come up to your shop. It was really the only reason we had to drive to Great Barrington.
    As my husband and I are both musicians (him far better than I) we will both miss your store greatly. I hope to bring him up at least once before you close.

    1. Claudia d'Alessandro says:

      Thanks so much for your support, Tamara. We hope to see you soon.

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