Many a blogger is sharing memories of the Colony Music Store as it closes its doors after sixty years. Like a lot of people, I only used Colony as a sheet music store, only musical theatre scores. I ignored the memorabilia, records and touristy stuff. And when I say used I don’t really mean shopped. Often, when I needed to know how a song goes, I’d browse Colony’s shelves, take a few glances, and committed the music to memory, well enough for my purposes. So, I guess I’m confessing I availed myself of their fine selection, sans monetary exchange, and so am partially responsible for their demise. In my defense, I can only say I often told singers to shop there, and when I said “Colony has it” I knew, from my many visits.
Forty-Ninth and Broadway: damn, that’s convenient. I can also recall trips to the long-defunct Carl Fischer Music Store on Cooper Square. Seemed the middle of nowhere. Of course, today, Cooper Square’s full of fanciful twenty-first century architecture: surfaces and forms so weird they’re barely recognizable as buildings. Quick, Mac: take me back to Broadway and 49th!
Ah, yes: The Brill Building. Colony occupied the street level of The Brill Building, which, when you think about it, is genius. In the tiny offices of the upper floors, for a good chunk of the fifties and sixties, many (or maybe most) of America’s most successful songwriters plied their trade. Music publishers would have them under contract, and they pounded out hit after hit. The Brill Building was, essentially, Tin Pan Alley, many years after the publishers left Twenty-Eighth Street, the original Tin Pan Alley.
So, in those years, shoppers at Colony could buy a product that had been created just a few floors above. If, like me, you’re a connoisseur of these things, visiting Colony was like visiting Napa Valley. Sure, you could buy the same bottle elsewhere, but here you get something close to the source.
For those who don’t read music, Colony had listening booths. So you could get your first hear of the latest single. I’m not old enough to have experienced that, but I can certainly recall the excitement when a new Broadway Vocal Selection would appear on Colony’s shelves. (It’s here at last! La Cage Aux Folles! Open freshly-printed book; memorize contents; put back.)
The other commercial space in The Brill is empty, feeding my worries about what’s to come. Nearby are two ridiculously large candy stores, one for Hershey products, the other a multi-story monstrosity just for M & Ms. People come from around the world to see Times Square. M & Ms and Hershey are Names They Know. In they flock, never considering that these candies aren’t a New York product and the Twizzlers they buy here are exactly the same as the Twizzlers they can get back home. Times Square, indeed-all of New York, use to attract tourists with the stuff you could only get in New York. Lindy’s cheesecake, Kung fu flicks, Nedicks franks. Hmm: now that I think of it, compared to those, I prefer Twizzlers. But I miss the Mom and Pop shops, the places you could only find in New York, and, most especially, the people who came here because of their interest in things you could find only here. Like a sheet music store with a staff that was particularly knowledgable about show tunes.
A friend of mine who likes to support local businesses wherever he goes, says that in Salt Lake City he only patronizes Mom and Mom and Mom and Pop shops.