Bookending the Port Jefferson Station and Stony Brook areas on Route 347 are two music centers that are just different enough to make both businesses viable in town, according to their managers.
Last summer, School of Rock opened up a location on Nesconset Highway in Port Jefferson Station. In June of this year, Music & Arts relocated from its Lake Grove location on Middle Country Road to a Stony Brook storefront on Nesconset Highway.
Music & Arts, part of a larger chain that is also affiliated with Guitar Center, abandoned its old location in Lake Grove on Middle Country Road, a space that was 2,200 square feet counting storage spaces. Its new facility is 3,200 square feet, with seven lesson rooms, a parent waiting area, and a large performance space with a professional PA and lighting system – in which it hosts regular community open mic nights. It retails instruments, equipment, and accessories in addition to offering lessons in all instruments, from rock styles to classical styles.
"We rent, we sell, we teach, we do it all," said Mike Venezia, a district manager for Music & Arts who has spent 11 years in the music retail business. "We are a full service musical instrument retailer. We do repairs. Anything that you need we have it or we can probably order it for you. ... We are more than just what’s within the four walls."
Meanwhile, School of Rock focuses solely on lessons rather than also devoting time and space to selling retail. It frequently throws full concerts for its students at venues in the community. "[Other music centers] are so different from our full programs. I really don't feel like we compete with anyone," said owner Tracie Smith, who opened the franchise during the summer of 2011. "We just focus on music education. We're able to get the kids playing more. We try to get them out on the biggest stages we can."
School of Rock has eight lesson rooms, three performance spaces, and a recording studio. The company has been around 15 years, even inspiring the film "School of Rock."
But caught somewhere in between those music centers are the smaller mom-and-pop music businesses that say their customer base has declined because the big guys have moved in.
"It’s extremely competitive," said Jim Tooher, who has owned and operated for 26 years on Main Street in Setauket. "It’s been very difficult being an independent business owner the last several years. The chains are taking over. You’ve got to find different ways to do it."
Richard Rabatin's Stony Brook School of Music differs a bit in that it doesn't have a storefront, but he too has felt the effects of the economy and the local competition.
"The economy is tough, it's the worst I've ever seen it since I got into business," he said.
Rabatin said having a longstanding reputation in the community helps him stay competitive.
"As far as the competition goes, I just have my own little thing that I do and I've been fortunate that I've had a lot of fantastic students ... and [support from] a lot of people in the community," he said.
Smith said she is constantly sending her students to local smaller music centers for gear. "It's good that those places are in the community," she said.
But overall, Smith and Venezia say, the local music business is thriving, with hundreds of local kids taking lessons in guitar, bass, piano, voice, and more.
"It really is a gateway to a number of things in your life," Venezia said. "It’s one of those things you can do for the rest of your life."