A recent article in The New Yorker brought back a ton of memories about how cool it was to be a musician in New York (even if you were only visiting) at one time in what seems like forever in the past. That was a time when the mecca of music stores was centered at 48th Street. It was the other “Music Row,” a single city block just off Broadway and ground zero for the best music stores, and the best deals, on the planet.
The legendary Manny’s Music, the first Sam Ash store, Rudy’s Music Stop, Alex Music, Greco’s Custom Guitars, Terminal Music, Silver and Horland, New York Woodwind and Brass Shop, and a few others I can’t remember made it as vibrant a place as you’d see in the music business. It’s where you’d just as likely see a superstar who was playing at Madison Square Garden that night as a kid in a local band both buying the same piece of gear.
Sadly, Music Row is no more as the the last tenants moved out in 2015, although most had been gone for some time before that.
Anyone who visited Music Row during it’s heyday understands how cool it was. There was competition between the stores that you don’t have today. Get a price from Manny’s and go across the street to Ash to see if they could beat it, and vice versa.
The 48th Street stores also always had the latest gear, which was a big deal before the Internet made manufacturer communication about new product instantaneous. You’d see it available on Music Row before the ads even hit the popular trade magazines. Talk about exciting.
Then there was the service, which was surprising good given the hard-sell environment and alleged New Yorker hard-core sales attitude. I remember Henry Goldrich, owner of Manny’s, treating me like I was Pete Townshend when I had a problem with a Conn Strobotuner one day. Not only did I get a replacement with no questions asked, he put me at the front of the line as well. This was back when I was just a kid playing in a Pennsylvania band of no particular notoriety so there was zero celebrity involved. I was just a customer with a problem, and Henry took care of me.
48th Street is where the home studio craze got its start, selling everything from Tascam 4 tracks to Fostex 8 tracks to ADATS. Both Manny’s and Ash were the first to recognize the trend and have dedicated recording departments in their stores before anyone else.
Like every other industry, the music retail business has evolved and moved on, for better or worse. Music instrument and audio retail is now dominated by Guitar Center and, to a lesser degree, Sam Ash, and Sweetwater has shown that people don’t mind buying gear online if they’re treated well. There’s a lot to be said for the ease of purchasing online, but I sure miss the excitement of Music Row and will continue to remember it fondly.
I’d love to hear your 48th Street stories and experiences.[Photo: Damon Vickers]