- Jeremiah Shaffer at Alto Music
Any brick-and-mortar retailers have been done in by the crushing competition of online sellers. But despite Alto Music’s being one of the largest online musical equipment dealers in the US, Keith Barclay, the company’s head of sales, maintains that shopping for that special new instrument or piece of gear is best done in the physical realm—ideally at either of Alto’s two local Hudson Valley retail locations, which are in Wappingers Falls and Middletown.
“Buying a guitar or other instrument is like buying car, really,” says Barclay, who’s been with the company for 11 years. “Being able to see a whole wall of instruments in person, and to be able to actually put your hands on one and play it, with a staff member right there to answer any questions about the instruments—it becomes a personable experience.”
Established in 1966 and owned by CEO Jon Haber (who bought his first guitar at the company’s original Rockland County location and began working there in 1981 at age 16), Alto Music carries a staggering selection of electric and acoustic guitars, keyboards, drums and percussion instruments, DJ gear, recording equipment, live PA systems, band and orchestra items, and more. A visit to either of its shops—Wappingers, opened in 1992, was expanded in 2012 to 6,000 feet; totaling 4,850 square feet, Middletown is the nation’s second-largest walk-in music retailer—is enough to make any new or veteran musician feel like the proverbial kid in the candy store. No wonder the firm counts the Rolling Stones, Ringo Starr, and other famed acts among its customers.
When the coronavirus hit, Alto followed the necessary moves of temporarily closing its retail shops and offering curbside order pickup service, and has been able to hang on to its helpful, knowledgeable counter staff by moving the members over to its online department. “Luckily, we didn’t have to let anyone go—and online sales have actually picked up, since so many people are stuck at home, so all of our coworkers are busy,” explains Barclay, who adds that all staffers are following proper health protocols.
It’s those same staff members to whom Barclay attributes both Alto Music’s longevity and its popularity among Chronogram readers, and he and his associates are looking forward to once again seeing their regular (and new) customers soon. “We have a great team,” he says. “And we’re ready to reopen whenever it’s safe to do so.”