A Drum Mecca Prepares to Close Up Shop

For years Drummers World on West 46th Street was a destination for percussionists of all stripes. Numerous jazz drummers made trips there. Roadies for famous touring bands stopped by. People involved with Broadway productions bought instruments. Even members of symphony orchestras traveled to the shop to find equipment.

At one point within the past decade, there were three drum stores on the block of 46th Street between Avenue of the Americas and Seventh Avenue. Soon, that number will be reduced to zero. Wednesday is the last day of business for Drummers World, which opened on West 45th Street in 1979 and moved to 46th Street 11 years later.

On Tuesday morning the store’s founder and owner, Barry Greenspon, sat at his desk talking about its history. Photographs of patrons like Elvin Jones and Paul Motian hung from the walls, along with a picture of Mr. Greenspon himself, taken more than 40 years ago, showing him sitting at a drum set, wearing a white button-down shirt and swinging a pair of sticks.

“I have a lot of good memories,” he said of his years selling drums and accompanying paraphernalia. “It was more than a business; it was a blessing.”

Mr. Greenspon said he opened the drum store because he knew of no shop in Manhattan at the time that stocked lesser-known instruments along with standard drum kits. So he filled his store with gongs, djembes, vibraphones, marimbas and pandieros, among other uncommon instruments.

Drummers would show up to buy an item, he said, and sometimes end up enamored with the sound of an instrument they had never heard before.

Bill Bruford, a drummer for the 1970s progressive rock bands Yes and King Crimson who went on to form a jazz band called Earthworks, was among those who stopped by. A photograph of him hangs on the wall next to photos of other visitors, including Mel Lewis, an orchestra leader known for a 23-year run at the Village Vanguard, and Louie Bellson, who played solos with Duke Ellington.

There’s also a photograph of Chris Lamb, a percussionist for the New York Philharmonic. Once, Mr. Greenspon said, he received a visit from a roadie for Charlie Watts of the Rolling Stones.

There is no one reason why the store is closing, Mr. Greenspon said, but plenty of contributing factors. For instance, there’s the conglomeratization of the instrument business, which often results in chain retailers with deep pockets elbowing out smaller competitors. And there is the reality that many people these days prefer to buy their equipment from an online merchant.

That’s all well and good, Mr. Greenspon said, but you can’t feel the tension in a snare skin or test the heft of a mallet through a modem connection. And you cannot experience the same sense of discovery gazing at a Web page that you can while browsing through shop shelves, he said.

“It’s kind of a message that a store like this is closing,” Mr. Greenspon said. “It eliminates the possibility of seeing an exotic instrument you’ve never seen before and becoming enthralled by it.”

On top of everything else, Mr. Greenspon said, the faltering economy made it difficult for him to pay his rent, $14,000 a month, and forced his customers to economize.

At one time, he said, people helping to run Broadway musicals like “The Lion King” and “Mama Mia” would walk from theaters nearby to buy triangles, timpani and other items. But he said newer productions were taking a different tack.

“Now they rent their instruments,” he said. “They don’t know how long the play will last.”

As noon approached on Tuesday, a few customers browsed the partly emptied shop. Among them was Takashi Inoue, 25, a jazz drummer from Harlem. He said that he had not visited the store often but knew its reputation among musicians.

“This is the last store for professional drummers,” he said. “The others are for kids or hobbyists.”

A few moments later, Mr. Greenspon pointed to an odd-looking item that at first glance appeared to be a cog from a piece of machinery. It featured a circular hollow steel base along with upright brass prongs of various lengths.

Mr. Greenspon explained that it was called an aquasonic. Water was poured into the base, he said, and the player drew a cello bow across the prongs.

As he demonstrated, an ethereal, eerie sound filled the shop, and a customer standing nearby looked up from the equipment he was examining to smile in appreciation.

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