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Music instrument sales dead. Banko’s to close retail store, still offer lessons

August 2, 2018

ANSONIA — Joe Shapiro’s dream in purchasing Banko’s was “to make it the center of the music scene in the Valley and beyond.”

Rising costs and flat sales shelved those plans after two years.

“It was a gamble,” said Shapiro, a Shelton resident who previously made a living designing management software for jewelry stores. “I thought it was a gamble I could win.”

Shapiro announced he’s closing the retail business on Sept. 1.

Shapiro was a former customer who bought the business and the building it was housed in in October 2016 from Joe and Sherry Salvati and kept them on as store managers.

During his ownership, he poured money into the shop, giving Banko’s a new look. Outside got a deep purple coat of paint to stand out on East Main Street. Inside, the floor-level clutter was gone, premium guitars were hung from the walls and the seven soundproofed lesson rooms upstairs were refurbished. He advertised that he’d beat internet prices and would not be undersold.

And while he claimed business doubled during his ownership, he needed it to increase sevenfold to support inventory, expenses and two full-time employees, he said.

“I’ve been putting money in every month for the last two years and just couldn’t do it anymore,” he conceded. “It’s disappointing.

“We did not have enough people coming in to buy musical instruments,” said Shapiro. “The economy in the Valley is not conducive to independent musical instrument stores.”

He let go his marketing director and informed the Salvatis their last day is Aug. 31. Banko’s merchandise will be on clearance through Aug. 25 with all in-stock merchandise discounted between 10 and 25 percent.

Despite the end of the retail store, Banko’s will continue offering music lessons upstairs. Shapiro guaranteed the lesson prices for students will remain the same “for at least two years.”

“Starting Sept. 1, only the center door (that leads upstairs) will be open,” Shapiro said. “We continue to be committed to music education, so we will keep and even hope to expand, the lesson program.”

The two storefronts that remain will be rented, said Shapiro.

“We’re still going to have the open mic every Tuesday at 7 p.m.,” said Shapiro, who enjoys joining in with his guitar. “It’ll just be upstairs.”

The non-profit Banko’s Music Foundation, which funded Saturday’s rain-hampered Rock the Summer concert at Nolan Field featuring NRBQ, will continue. Whether or not the foundation offers another free concert next year is up in the air.

“We’ll still raise money for music scholarships,” he said.

“We’re very sad it didn’t succeed,” said Sherry Salvati. She said her husband, Joe, has been part of the store since 1979 when he began working for Frank Banko, the Oxford resident who started the business in 1955.

In its heyday, Banko’s was the place to go for music. It rented instruments to most of the Valley schools’ music students. That business was lost years ago to national rental companies.

“It would have been helpful if we got it back,” said Shapiro. “But it wouldn’t have put us over the top. Music programs are declining in the schools.”

Customer Kevin Anderson of Seymour said he’ll miss the personal touch the retail store offered.

“The staff was like family,” said Anderson, who said he will continue to take jazz guitar lessons there.

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