For Colony Music Store in NYC, the Song Has Ended; Memories Linger On
By Kenneth Jones
Colony, the Times Square-area music store variously referred to as Colony Records, Colony Music or just The Colony since 1948, is now a memory. Owner Richard Turk confirmed that the last day of business was Sept. 16.
When Turk closed the door to the public for the last time after 6 PM that Sunday, on the corner of 49th and Broadway, a crowd of 100 people was there to wish him well. They applauded, he told Playbill.com.
"Every 'character store' is gone now," Turk said, lamenting what he sees as the corporate, mall-like quality that pervades Times Square today. He said the closure after 64 years of selling classical, pop and Broadway sheet music and cast recordings (41 years at its present location) was a perfect storm of "technology meets economics." In short, it's easier for records and sheet music to be bought off the internet; brick-and-mortar businesses are not easy to maintain in the high-rent world of Manhattan real estate.
As of Sept. 26, the inventory has been sold off or returned to publishers and record labels, the 5,000-square-foot venue (formerly a bank) has been gutted and the 15 employees have been let go. The exact day that Turk turns the keys over to the landlord is yet to be determined, but it's imminent, he said, adding that since Aug. 23, when The Colony (as he calls it) was first reported to be shuttering, the end has been "a humbling experience."
In recent weeks, hundreds of people — musicians, actors, singers, fans of show music — have stopped by the store to share their memories. He captured more than 100 of their stories on video, possibly for future blog or website posting. An independent company is working on a film documentary about Colony, and Turk said he thinks the store's history and memorabilia would make for a good coffee table book. Political leaders, Tony Award winners, film stars, movie directors and pop music icons (Neil Diamond, among others) have visited Colony over the years.
Woody Allen shot a scene for "Broadway Danny Rose" there, and its exterior was seen in shots for the TV series "Smash." (The store is in famed pop-music mecca The Brill Building, at 1619 Broadway, the lobby of which serves as a location shoot for the Broadway-themed series.) Bette Midler has tweeted about the Colony closing, and Turk said he heard from Tony winners Bernadette Peters, Patti LuPone and Alice Ripley, plus singer-actresses Liz Callaway and Ann Hampton Callaway recently.
Turk, who owned Colony with partners Alan Grossbardt and Michael Grossbardt, is in discussions about how Colony might reinvent itself solely as an internet operation, possibly representing publishers of sheet music (the store's bread and butter over the years) but nothing is clear or for sure at the moment, he said. (The business was founded by the fathers of Turk and the Grossbardt brothers in 1948, at the northwest corner of 52nd Street and Broadway, in the shadow of the Colony Theatre, now the Broadway Theatre. It moved to 49th Street and Broadway in 1971.)
The current location's iconic Colony neon signage (two signs, over each entrance door) will be taken down and preserved. Turk said he's gotten a number of calls about the signs, including from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The larger original signs crumbled over time and were replaced, though the neon "cheerleader" who (according to the store's ad tagline) "found it at Colony" remained in a store window display for years. The owners still have her.
What fans of music lose most, Turk said, is access to a knowledgeable staff who could direct jazz and classical players to the right sheet music, or Broadway chorus kids to the right audition song. Turk wondered aloud, "Where will they go to ask for a recommendation…?"
Lindsay Mendez, the jazz and pop singer and stage actress of Broadway's Godspell and Everyday Rapture and Off-Broadway's Dogfight, echoed the feelings of many other artists when she was asked by Playbill.com to reflect on the Colony experience: "Colony was one of the first places I visited when I moved to New York and was 18 years old," she said. "I would sit and browse music for hours and just loved spending time in there. But my favorite memory was walking into Colony with my friend Ryan Scott Oliver, and seeing his first vocal selection book on the shelves. The staff was so kind and excited to have it there, and it was just so thrilling to know that his music was a part of that place…a part of New York theatre history."
(Kenneth Jones is managing editor of Playbill.com. Follow him on Twitter @PlaybillKenneth.)
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