Site selection for the Schuylerville Music Center was done carefully, as when McDonald’s decides if a property warrants a pair of golden arches.
In 1970, the storefront at 3637 East Tremont Avenue was commercially desirable. It was across from a post office, on a bus stop and adjacent to a butcher shop, a grocery store and a booming pharmacy.
“That was the busiest drugstore from here to Westchester Square,” said Joseph Cuscianna, the music store’s owner, recalling the reasons he and a former partner decided this part of Throggs Neck was the right place for their enterprise.
Over 38 years later, Schuylerville Music Center is one of the eldest merchants in the area. Many customers still arrive via bus or on foot. Over the course of an hour one recent morning, nearly a dozen pedestrians peered into the store’s front windows to study the drums and guitars on display. Some of them came inside.
“We’re full up on lessons,” Cuscianna said. He’s been the sole proprietor and sole employee since 1975. “We have two or three teachers every day for lessons. So, it’s keeping us going. And, of course, we make sales, too.”
There are four business segments: instruments, repairs, accessories like amplifiers and guitar strings, and lessons.
Instruction takes place in three small rooms at the rear of the store that muffle but don’t completely block the sounds of the performances within. Tutoring is considered the most important part of the business.
“There’s a clear profit with very little investment,” Cuscianna said, “whereas with the instruments we have to buy them first and then hope we sell them.”
Cuscianna teaches the accordion. His son instructs on the piano and electric keyboard. Other independent contractors teach guitar and bass, flute, clarinet, saxophone and drums.
Most lessons involve bass, electric and acoustic guitars. These also make up a sizeable portion of the instrument inventory and hang from the walls and ceiling.
Some people come through the door already proficient on an instrument. Many are recent transplants to New York City. They ask about names and contacts, not lessons, because the earnest folks believe the storefront is a type of agency or studio and want to play music for money.
“They get disappointed when they find out that we’re just trying to sell them a guitar,” Cuscianna said.
The store is open banker’s hours Monday through Saturday, though there are days when the door is locked early in the afternoon.
“We’re all professional musicians here, so sometimes we’re out playing,” Cuscianna said. He is 64, and has been squeezing accordions since he was nine. He had regular gigs at the Rainbow Room and Mamma Leone’s in Manhattan, and continues to play in catering halls around the Northeast.
“The neighborhood changed a little. It’s become more populated,” Cuscianna said. “But the business has changed a lot more.”
Gone are the vinyl records and cassette tapes that once occupied the front of the store. Until the last selections were sold in 1980, two years before the compact disc was introduced, prerecorded rock music had been important to the shop’s bottom line.
As for the musical instruments, the cheaper models are not made like they used to be — and for this Cuscianna is grateful.
“The professional $2,000 guitars of today that were $200 back then are just as good, but they’ve gone up in price a lot,” he said. “The entry-level stuff has gotten so much better and the price hasn’t changed that much.”
The store sells a kit for $179 that includes an electric guitar, amplifier, carrying case, extra strings, a strap and a how-to video.
Cuscianna has no plans to retire from retail or professionally playing the accordion.
“I’ve worked with musicians that were in their late 80’s and were still out there performing,” he said with a shrug.
He then looked outside and thought for a moment, reconsidered his earlier comments and said the neighborhood has morphed from its 1970 incarnation.
The post office remains and a new butcher shop operates a few doors down from where another man had cut meat, but that thriving drugstore is gone and so is the grocery store. And on a corner across the street, a McDonald’s has opened.