Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Big Yellow Taxi: The Joseph Patelson Music House?

It's Not Just the Store—It's the Neighborhood!

The likely closing of the Joseph Patelson Music House is another one of those "end of an era" situations that sadden me. I hardly shopped there, but I greatly appreciated its presence, its existence, the ambience inside, and its positive effect on the atmosphere outside, in the Carnegie Hall neighborhood.

It makes perfect sense—it just seems right—for a music store to be located just by Carnegie Hall. That's been the "location, location, location" of Patelson's for decades—the store window easily visible (right) across the street from Carnegie Hall's stage door. Yet location didn't prevent the store from running into problems of continuity that many successful businesses face—and it didn't seem to be enough to help the store persevere despite competition from the Internet, where sheet music has apparently become relatively cheap and easy to obtain.

The loss of Patelson's would be the loss of another shop that I associate with old standards of quality and genuine affection for the products sold, the kind of places where aficionados mix and mingle. Appropriate comparisons would be the losses of the bemoaned Gotham Book Mart (d. 2007) and Elk Candy (d. 2006), both still the subjects of earnest searches judging from what leads web surfers to this blog.

Inside Patelson's you could soak in the old school ambience characterized by lots of wood furnishings, rows of music bins, and personnel who knew their stuff. Outside, it was part of a Carnegie Hall neighborhood including the gorgeous Steinway Hall as well as the landmark CAMI Building, which had been a school for dance and a retail outlet for a music publisher before being taken over by the music management firm CAMI, which vacated the premises several years ago.

I got to know the Carnegie Hall neighborhood when I worked in the CAMI publicity department in the mid-1980s, a still largely unwired period when one of the responsibilities of the publicity department was to clip and file local newspaper reviews of CAMI artists. Some reviews somehow escaped our notice, so I was excited to learn that someone at Patelson's also collected reviews and kept them ordered chronologically in scrapbooks where local musicians could leaf through them. After I found out that Patelson's would no longer hold onto this labor of love, I was delighted to help it to find a new home at CAMI.

I like to think of this anecdote as illustrating something good about the "performing arts neighborhood" around Carnegie Hall. I fear that it is diminishing, year after year.

Photo: David Marc Fischer

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