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Farewell to NYC’s Last Sheet Music Store

The last store in the city dedicated to selling sheet — and only sheet music — closed its doors for good today, Friday, March 6, at 5pm. The Frank Music Company on West 54th Street near Broadway opened in 1937. But sales have been sluggish in recent years, and the owner is moving on. Miriam Sitz paid a visit to the store on its final day.

If you called Frank Music Company this week, this is what you heard.

ANSWERING MACHINE MESSAGE: Because we are closing at 5pm on Friday we have gotten a tremendous number of phone calls. And while we appreciate your interest and your love and your concern we just can’t answer the phone anymore.

It hasn’t stopped people from calling. Nor have the calls exactly lightened the mood.

JAMES BESSER: It’s very sad, it’s a funeral. This is a terrible loss for the music community.

James Besser is a pianist and conductor. He’s been a regular at the shop since the 80s. And Lee Feldman, he stumbled across a piano book to buy while browsing the scores.

LEE FELDMAN: You can’t come across things that you wouldn’t normally… (JAMES BESSER: It’s irreplaceable, irreplaceable. )

Heidi Rogers has owned the place since 1978. She’s sold music to world famous musicians like violinist Pamela Frank or cellist David Finckel, and to kids, buying books for their first private lessons. But times change, and people just don’t come in for sheet music like they used to.

HEIDI ROGERS: Years ago, 20 was a good day. Recently 2 people a day, maybe. I have days where nobody came in.

But this final week? They’re not just calling. Everyone’s coming to say goodbye.

HEIDI ROGERS: I had about 70 or 80 people yesterday. The day before that I had about 60, which is ridiculous.

In between ringing up customers, there are details to take care of… The logistics of closing a business she’s owned for almost 40 years. This is her husband.

ROGERS: I have to take the website down now. is that ok? sure. Goodbye website.

There’s no website anymore, but there’s still music. Hundreds of thousands of scores, and actually that’s one thing Heidi doesn’t have to worry about. What remains of her inventory at the end of the day today has been purchased by an anonymous donor, and will be shipped across the country, to the Colburn School, a music conservatory in Los Angeles.

HEIDI ROGERS: They are really happy because they’re gonna have a great great library, and i’m really happy because I dont have to throw stuff out. Except for my losing my purpose in life…

Her purpose in life may just be a casualty of a changing economy. Scores like the ones that Heidi sold can now be bought for less from retailers like Amazon, or even straight from the publishers. Or you can download it to your ipad or computer.  But of course, as with any change, something is lost.

NIC HANDAHL: Certainly I place highest the aesthetic of the music, the tactile experience of heavy paper, the organic component of typeset music which considers the phrasing and the tempo and spacing of the notes.

He first visited Frank Music Company eight years ago, soon after he came to the city.

NIC HANDAHL: My first experience there was walking into a sort of Ollivanders-like shop where you see all of this shelving in the back with tons of scores.

That’s an experience future generations of New York City musicians won’t get to have.They’ll have scores on their iPads, or printed for free from the internet.

HEIDI ROGERS: I think when I’m going to really feel this is after everything’s finished, after this is all packed up and it goes to California, and I have nothing to do.

Here’s hoping that Heidi enjoys her retirement. She says she’ll be spending time with her husband at her farm in the Catskills, raising chickens, and surely listening to some of that beautiful music she spent the last 36 years selling.

MUSIC: Sigurd Jorsalfar, Edvard Grieg, Op.56

Miriam Sitz, Columbia Radio News.


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