Nov. 16, 2020
Good Morning Friends,
Saturdays mornings at Bernunzio‘s used to be called "Church". Faithful followers would meet when the store opened to catch up on each other’s lives, talk about old instruments, play and jam. This coming June it will be 15 years since we opened the doors of Bernunzio Uptown Music. Of course we had operated Bernunzio Vintage Instruments, a mail order business, for 30 years before that. A retail store was something new and exciting. One event that pushed us in that direction was our new association with Eastman Strings and their fabulous guitars (we had never endorsed a brand of guitars before). The other was the esteemed Eastman School of Music which was just around the corner from the store. After a few years of attending the Rochester International Jazz Festival, Julie and I decided that this was the place we should hang our hats.
Now many of our friends warned us of the slippery slope of having a retail business. In fact, while my business was in the house, I was the envy of those who were tired of "tending store". But it was a new adventure for us, an opportunity for us to break out of our basement hideout and become part of the community. I honestly have to admit we didn't know much about retail sales or running a store and what that entails. Over the years, through trial and error, we found unique products that appealed to our customers. However, our main source of revenue has remained the buying and selling of vintage instruments through our website.
So what did we get out of having a retail store? We created and enjoyed a vibrant music community. We made new friends and attained a devoted clientele. Retail sales is a humbling experience. You never know who will walk through the door or what their needs might be. Many times, just listening and understanding is all a person needs. We gained a true community connection. Retail is demanding but rewarding. For example, a dozen years ago a young kid came in to look at guitars and asked me if I needed any help. I signed him up to work at the store to manage the crowds during Jazz Festival. We struck up a good relationship and now Ryan Yarmel has been with us for nearly half his life. It’s those kinds of things that make retail interesting. It’s finding relationships where you didn’t know there were any. It’s making connections with people you might never have met.
So, is retail as we know it dead? Will the pandemic further drive sales to "super stores" or online shopping? We do not know the answers to these questions but it seems that there will always be a contingent of folks who want the experience of meeting with a knowledgable sales person and putting their hands on a musical instrument before placing an order. They still appreciate customer service attained through a quick phone call or email with the person who sold them a product - not an anonymous voice in a call center far away.
The pandemic has changed our retail operation as it has many others. Our store is only open to the public one day a week - Saturdays. The rest of the week we are open by appointment and this model will continue until the world is a safer place for people to gather. We are still committed to a retail operation because it gives us an additional audience.... vintage instruments and story telling go hand-in-hand.....The most important transactions that we have take place either face-to-face or with long conversations over the telephone....it takes a while to tell the story...and the stories are an important part of the value. In a strange, ironic twist we may evolve to become just an expanded version of what we once were. It’s been an interesting ride. Even though Julie and I are moving to Penn Yan, NY, in a couple of weeks we will be in town to tend store on the weekends. Who knows, maybe in the future we will have a "revivalist" meeting on Saturday mornings. Elmer Gantry here I come!
PS: When asked by my staff whether it was better when I worked out of my home or when I had a store, I thought for a bit and replied. "When I worked out of my house I had no overhead, few employees and a lot of money in my pocket. When I open the store, I’ve got a lot of employees, great visible space and I’ve met tons of new friends, customers and musicians over the years. Money meh. But, I tell them now, when I die, more people will come to my funeral and my grandmother would be proud of that. JB
Still the walls are filled with some of the best guitars from around the country.
Two of my current favorites are this Martin style 3K uke from the 1920s and this Gibson Mandolin from the 1930s. I still love old instruments!
From the earlier days in the basement on Penfield Road circa 1986