According to the FB post of composer Lanie Fefferman, Patelson’s Music Store in NYC is closing as of 4/18. I’m assuming this is not a faux rumor, and if I’m creating a false run on Patelson’s inventory, I apologize. Anyway, many of us grew up in a time where including a trip to Patelson’s, even if just for browsing scores, was de rigeur anytime we were in Manhattan. I’d go there all the time from NJ, and back in the 70’s and early 80’s, it wasn’t too expensive to purchase a score or two, some violin music, some notation paper and even some LPs.

Times change—the last time I was there scores were several times more expensive than anything I bought growing up. And there was very little in the way of contemporary music. Good luck trying to find much of anything by someone from the Downtown scene. Even music by Ginastera, Dallapiccola, Shapey and others usually was elusive. I do recall seeing a (very expensive) score by John Adams there on my last visit. But that’s it in terms of his oeuvre.

So is this a bad thing, the closing of Patelson’s? In many ways it is, since I still have some nostalgic interest in the place. And it’s hard for me to imagine growing up without access to new scores, notation paper, etc. However, in all honesty, Patelson’s hasn’t been on my radar for quite some time. As mentioned, the scores were now far out of my price range (although that’s not Patelson’s fault, but the fault of publishers and intellectual property restrictions), and the inventory wasn’t where my musical interests lay anymore. A lot of things are now available online. For pianists, it’s even very possible to use a computer and wireless pedals (as Hugh Sung is developing and distributing) to load PDFs of scores purchased online and turn pages without a human page turner.

The loss of Patelson’s was inevitable. And I have mixed feelings. What’s your take on this?

16 thoughts on “death of a music store”
  1. I was in total shock when I found out that Patelson Music House has gone out of business during my recent visit to NYC. It is no doubt another casualty of the on-line music purchase trend. Unfortunately, many of us still enjoy the personal touch while buying music or instruments. Luckily, I still have a few simple but classy Patelson’s business cards left in my violin case. Thanks for the memory!!!!!

  2. I purchased at Patelsons mostly as an adult, after returning from Europe. (Have fond memories of Doeblingers in Vienna which became very commercial in recent years). But my piano teacher bought at Patelsons, although mostly at Carl Fisher and T. Presser (Phila). I don’t remember much about “smugness” of the help but will miss the browsing and that great store front! Alas, the mireacle of the Web ruins some things we love and cherish!

  3. I once receive a pile of music from Patelson’s that I never ordered and felt so badly for the conductor who was obviously waiting in vain, I went through the trouble of forwarding them myself. Too bad about its closing but something else will sprout to replace it, I am sure.

  4. I couldn’t believe the change in the place between my first and second visits. I went in to buy some nice A3 manuscript paper to find dog-eared tat there in place of what used to be quirky but cared-for stock.
    I found them snobbish too, and I steered clear of the place when one chap who worked there gave me an ear-bashing about not wanting to buy a solo clarinet piece he’d written himself…. (I’m a cellist, let me out…!)

  5. I totally agree, Richard. I have a lot of mixed feelings about this. While Patelsons became essentially irrelevant to me over the past many years, at one time it was indeed the place to obtain scores, music books, records, notation paper, etc. I remember going to Schirmer’s and Wurlitzer’s as a kid, and they just couldn’t compare (although I really have to admit the old string instruments on exhibit at Wurlitzer’s was really cool). It’s like the old Carnegie Recital Hall—a piece of an era died with it.

  6. I just read the article about Patelson’s in the Times this morning (and blogged about it). First I’d heard they were closing.

    My memories of the place go back to the late 50’s and early 60’s. I bought scores and parts, and most of my music books came from there.

    True, they were grumpy even then. But I was a kid so I was used to that. “Is that ALL you want?” like I could afford all the orchestral parts to the Symphonie Fantastique? All I wanted was the double bass part….

    But yes, there was very little contemporary music, except for some boring academics. Still, it was a music store. There was some kind of a glow around it. And I too would always try to stop in there when I was in NY after moving out west.

    Here in Berkeley the long-time music store, Tupper and Reed, closed last year. They sold sheet music and scores as well as instruments and stuff (even tin whistles!), and they had practice rooms for lessons.

    But it too was running at a loss for years.

    Says something about our culture, the loss of music education in the schools, and the loss of places to meet like-minded people to chat about music, or books, or whatever.

    We seem to be doomed to sit and stare at LCD screens, by ourselves, in a virtual world, removed.

    Regardless of what Patelsons may have become in its last years, this loss leaves us all a bit diminished.

  7. I haven’t bought from them in years either. In all honesty, when I wrote the original post above, I wanted to mention the utter assholishness of many of the staff that I experienced over the years. They were often smug, unhelpful, arrogant and frankly didn’t seem like they could give a damn. I feel bad about their demise only in terms of my nostalgic feelings and because I used to go there every time I was in NYC pretty much. I’m not sure their demise will impact my life one iota, however.

  8. Okay, I haven’t bought anything there for years, so that makes me feel guilty for being part of the death of an “institution.” I used to love Patelson’s, but I agree with Sean Hickey and Christopher O’Riley, their staff was often less than helpful. Price ultimately drove them out of business, but their lack of customer service didn’t help.

  9. Patelson’s never seemed all that good to me after the first time I was there (there’s some kind of–probably dirty–joke in there). For years it seemed like they never had much of anything. Of course I haven’t been there in years. Music stores generally seem to be going the way of record stores anyway, although web alternatives seem less easy.

  10. Frank Music Company seems to be doing fine. Heidi Rogers, the shop’s owner, could not be more helpful, but a word of warning: Do NOT enter her premises with a cell ‘phone. You will be asked to leave the store !

  11. The end of some kind of era, I’m sure. And I agree with Chris except to say that smug is being a bit charitable to the staff. I always got the impression I was walking into someone else’s exclusive party, albeit a dull one.

  12. I’m thrilled Patelson’s is going under; never liked the place. They were invariably overpriced, disorganized, and the staff were invariably (as already ppointed out by others) smug and unhelpful. Very soon after my first visit to patelson’s, i was steered clear of the place and Frank Music Company was recommended to me. They are close by (254 W. 54th), reasonably priced, unstintingly helpful and gracious.
    Good riddance to Patelson’s.

  13. I only live a couple of blocks from Carnegie Hall so I stopped in earlier today, and Lainie is indeed correct; they’re closing their doors in a couple of weeks. FYI, if you’re looking for scores there’s not much left on the shelves; they’re pretty picked over. They do seem to have a lot of orchestral parts though if you’re into that kind of thing.

  14. Personally, I always found a lot of the folks there to be smug, but that’s besides the point. True, selling new music wouldn’t have helped them, but it would have made them more relevant nowadays to folks like you and me. Their inventory was not very diverse unless you’re ok with the same old scores they carried since the 80’s. Still, it was a place where many of us would browse from time to time. I remember seeing Pinchas Zukerman walk down the staircase that was in the middle of the store. That was the first time I ever saw him up close, and I’m sure had I hung out there more often, I’d have seen many other notable figures. But in these days when many of us no longer need reams of notation paper (due to software) or need hard copies of music scores (due to the increasing availability of scores online in PDF format; see, Patelson’s had stagnated and was no longer that needed.

  15. DT, you’re right this is partly Patelson’s own fault. Every time I’d go in there, I’d see at least three unhelpful employees standing around doing nothing, or just chatting with one another. If business is going down, well, sometimes heads need to roll. Or, at least, SOMETHING needs to roll. Patelson’s just seemed like the twilight zone.

    I doubt selling contemporary scores would have improved their business much. But perhaps branching out into selling instruments, or electronic music equipment, or offering music lessons, or something else would have.

    Were they trying anything but the same old same old? I doubt it.

    But I’m still sad to see the old store go. Like a senile grandfather who has trouble moving around, Patelson’s may be nigh useless; but it’s still lovable.

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