BOARDMAN Tired of the slow beat, owner to close store
The owner plans to write more instructional books after the store closes.
THE VINDICATOR, YOUNGSTOWN, OHIO
By DON SHILLING
VINDICATOR BUSINESS EDITOR
BOARDMAN -- July 31 will be the day the music dies at Neapolitan Music.
The store where thousands of young musicians have taken lessons or bought reeds for woodwind instruments will close.
The final days are bittersweet for owner Joe Maroni.
They are bitter because they mean an end of a vision created by Gabe Neapolitan, who started the store in Youngstown in 1937. He wanted to make music affordable for school pupils, so he developed a rental instrument program and promoted it heavily at area schools.
The store's glory days came in the 1960s when it rented up to 1,200 instruments a year and provided lessons for hundreds.
Maroni loved those days because of the closeness of the schools and the music stores. Band directors relied on the stores for repairing instruments and stocking music supplies for pupils, and the stores benefited from business referrals from the schools.
A band director himself at the time, Maroni took up Gabe Neapolitan's offer to join the store as a part-time employee in 1968. Maroni bought the business in 1985 when Neapolitan died.
But the close relationship between the store and the community has changed, making running the business less fun, Maroni said.
He still knows the local band directors, but the chummy relationship has changed. Band directors often frustrate him now because they send pupils to national retailers, seeming more concerned with saving their pupils a few dollars than supporting a local business, he said.
"The days of loyalty are gone," he said.
The nature of the music business also has changed. First, catalog retailers became popular, as did Internet sales.
Now, he figures that many shoppers come in to ask questions about an instrument and then, after they figure out what model they want, place an order over the Internet.
Music companies also have made it hard for local stores, he said. They used to offer volume discounts with the purchase of 10 or 12 instruments, but now they ask for an order of 50.
Also causing sales to slip has been the success of music programs at area schools, he said. So many people have instruments from their youth that young people today have no problem finding an instrument to borrow or buy cheaply.
"Every time you sell someone an instrument, they're an automatic competitor," Maroni said.
The demand for lessons at the store also declined over the years as suburban residents became reluctant to come into Youngstown, he said. The store used to be on South Avenue on the city's South Side.
When the store moved into the Boardman Plaza two years ago, it stopped offering lessons.
With the way the business has changed over the years, Maroni, 62, finds himself looking forward to the closing.
He will use his extra time to write more instructional books and performance pieces. He has five percussion instruction books published with Mel Bay Publications and three with Southern Music Co. He also has six performance pieces published.
He has an instructional book on mallet playing coming out in September and just submitted a book on playing the flute, his first nonpercussion book, to Mel Bay.
The publisher also sends him to schools to give percussion clinics to band directors.
Maroni teaches computer science at Youngstown State University and serves as a substitute elementary school principal in Youngstown. He retired as a band director in 1998 after working for South Range and Youngstown schools.
He said he would have kept the store going longer if he didn't have these other sources of income. But he thinks he'll be happy spending his time on his other activities, and his wife, Judy, is ready to step down from running the store's daily operations.
"It was more of a hobby for me," he said. "She carried the burden and stress of the business."