David Gordon Theatermania.com 08/24/12
Colony Records, a theater district fixture since 1948, will close its doors for good this September
“Bernadette Peters tells me a story…” recalls Richard Turk, co-owner of Colony Records, losing himself in a memory, “that when she was 9, she went past the window of the Colony, and she looked in, saw the music, went in and heard something, and said ‘I want to be a Broadway star.'”
Turk and his business partner Michael Grossbardt found themselves reflecting on a lot of memories such as these on Thursday, August 23 when word got out — and spread like wildfire — that they had made the difficult decision to close the veritable sheet music and memorabilia store next month. The exact date is still to be determined, but Grossbardt, who serves as the organization’s Chief Executive Officer, believes it will be on or around September 15. “The Tweets started coming in,” Turk said, “and a thousand regular New York theatergoers are very sad, and I’m very touched and appreciative.”
The pair has chosen to close the emporium, he continues, because of “rising expenses, declining sales, and an internet-first philosophy for most people. We are a niche store that sells musician-type material, but it’s not so unique that it can’t be gotten on the internet.” Ultimately, he adds, the store has “just kind of run its course. I can only keep it open so long until I financially can’t make payroll anymore, and I’m not going to do that.”
Yet even in the internet age, there was something special about buying sheet music at the Colony, being able to take in the store’s scent (of which James Brown once famously said, without ever having gone in before, “smells like a music store”) and being able to hold in your hands a product you couldn’t find anywhere else in person. When I was a young buck and still played the piano, Colony was where I found songbooks for a wide array of musicals, from Guys and Dolls to Avenue Q. Singer friends of mine were overjoyed when they found the sheet music of Jeanine Tesori and Dick Scanlan’s “The Girl in 14 G,” made popular on Kristin Chenoweth’s album Let Yourself Go, so they could use the song at their next auditions.
Leslie Kritzer — whose Broadway credits include Legally Blonde and Sondheim on Sondheim and who will soon be joining the Off-Broadway cast of NEWSical the Musical — fondly remembers perusing Colony as a child with her musician father. As a college student, she says, “I lived at three places: the Performing Arts Library, the Drama Book Shop, and Colony.” Kritzer recalls finding a wide array of products she could find nowhere else, from the sheet music for Michael Feinstein’s version of “Where Do You Start?” to “Everything Must Change” by Oleta Adams. “They just had everything,” Kritzer added.
Composer/lyricist Joe Iconis, whose musical The Black Suits is currently running at the Barrington Stage Company, recalls memories of combing the store’s aisles with his grandfather. “I would literally browse the selection for hours,” Iconis remembered. “The combination of the aisles of music books and the insane weirdo memorabilia made the place feel dangerous, and forbidden, and magical. It’s like the adult video store version of a music shop. Truly one of the most New Yorkiest New York places of all time.”
Grossbardt, whose father, with Turk’s, founded the store in 1948, recalls a frequent customer, a young, popular singer by the name of Michael Jackson, who wouldn’t merely buy things. “Bought wasn’t the word,” he says. “He bought every doll we had, every magazine, every Michael Jackson album. He was like a kid in a candy store. He would spend thousands of dollars on that stuff, his own memorabilia. Neil Diamond is the same way.”
“Like a death in the family,” is how Grossbardt considers the impending closing, but it’s not just the closure that’s the difficult part. A small doorway in the basement unlocks a treasure-trove of an entirely different world, the 50,000-plus volume record collection that he has amassed in his years running the business. Once Colony sells its last piece of sheet music, he will have to transport, and eventually part with, much of the collection.
Turk insists there will be no going out of business sale, no “everything must go” signs covering the windows. Colony will close the heavy doors emblazoned with gold-plated treble clefs and go gently into that good night. But not without the memories of 64 years of diligent service and customers from the world over.
“We get people who don’t speak English, but we converse very easily with them,” Turk said. “They’ll say one word, and the next thing you know, you’re conversing in a very universal language. The language of music.”