Two surprise closings and what they mean for Broadway.

What are these two closings?

Hint.

They aren’t shows.

News hit the web yesterday that the famed NYC sheet music and showtune retailer, Colony Records, would be closing its doors forever at a soon-to-be-named date.

Colony, which is part of the footprint of The Brill Building (which has more history than Wikipedia) is a cultural landmark in this city.  Sure, their prices were a bit high, which is why so many of its shoppers in recent years turned to eBay and other online retailers.  But still, going to that store with its somewhat cranky yet incredibly knowledgeable staff and buying a song or two (like I did when I was at Tisch), made you feel like part of the scene.

And in other recent news, Colony’s smaller yet still substantial counterpart in the West End, Dress Circle, just shut its doors on August 15th.

What’s happening?

Well, yes, shoppers have gotten savvy, and they know they can get the same product online, and probably cheaper than by buying it at fancy brick-and-mortar store like Colony.

But, we’d be fooling ourselves if we thought that was the only reason.

When stores selling Broadway memorabilia can’t sell enough Broadway memorabilia to warrant having a store, it means that Broadway memorabilia ain’t in the same demand as it used to be.

And when people aren’t collecting things associated with a brand, it means the passionate fan base may be dissipating.

Both of these stores advertised our brand.  Millions of people walked by them every year, and thousands went in because they saw something that intrigued them.  The web doesn’t work like that.  You rarely just run into something online without having received direction from somewhere.

So, no, these two closings aren’t shows.

But I’d say they have an even bigger impact.

 

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Comments
  • Kathleen Hochberg says:

    So sad… I shopped in Colony when they actually sold records! I got my first Godspell album there!!

  • Scott Rice says:

    This is incredibly sad for many reasons. Colony was always one of my go-to stops whenever I visited NYC. I would also suspect that internet piracy has become a large part of stores like this closing. Many Broadway fans would rather download sheet music, cast albums, etc. illegally for free rather than go to a store like Colony and pay for it. An unfortunate sign of our times.

  • Nicholous Bailey says:

    Going to Colony was never a positive experience for me. The staff always treated me as if I were an idiot, or was trying to steal something. I’d say part of why they are closing is that no one wants to buy from mean, accusatory staff!

  • Alex Stephens says:

    Two thoughts. Yes, the staff at Colony was downright obnoxious, and that’s from many visits over the last two decades. But, I agree with the sense of joy and discovery standing elbow-to-elbow with other performing arts aficionados in a physical store. I still mourn the loss of Footlight Records, where I would never leave empty handed. I also purchased on more than one occasion, items recommended by fellow shoppers. For that experience to go by the wayside, that is indeed a tragedy.

    My other thought is on the comment, “when stores selling Broadway memorabilia can’t sell enough Broadway memorabilia to warrant having a store, it means that Broadway memorabilia ain’t in the same demand as it used to be.” Well, that is certainly true, and here’s another reason: it’s poorly designed and executed. When I first started my pilgrimages to NYC from the midwest, in the late 1980’s, I’d return with scads of window cards, souvenir programs, t-shirts, etc. On my last visit this spring, I saw 8 shows in 5 days and came home with nothing. Show graphics are no longer clever or artistic enough to warrant the display of a windowcard on my wall – as an example, please see the monstrosity that is currently representing the soon-to-open “Chaplin.” Souvenir programs have minimal written content and lousy, grainy pictures that do no justice to the visuals of a show; and the shirts are outrageously priced and of poor quality (I’m in that industry, and I know what I’m talking about).
    Ok, off that soapbox…but it’s kinda sad when you’d love to spend some money and bring home something interesting and nice…but you can’t.

  • David says:

    The owners of Colony have been pirates from the get go. Overpricing everything to tourists who didn’t know any better. Thank God New Yorkers knew better not to buy there! I’m thrilled Colony will be gone. Screw ’em! Good riddance! Goodbye!

  • Allie says:

    This is so saddening…though inevitable. Unfortunately, buying things online, streaming, downloading–legal or not–is the thing that the majority does. Yes it was overpriced, but a true landmark, and was my favorite place to hit up before/after seeing a show, or even to get musically inspired. Why can’t these things stay the same?

  • Marilyn says:

    Same thing with Tower, Patelson’s, etc. – usually went in for 1 item and wound up buying several things more because you would browse the whole store and pick up many more items – can’t do that online – can’t browse – you have to know what you’re looking for or want and other items just don’t appear. Took most of the fun out of shopping for sheet music, scores, discs, vinyls, and new items. Sad indeed!

  • Scott says:

    Taking it back a step – Broadway used to market its music to radio and TV where you heard more “standard” music being sung by popular artists. What songs are being covered by today’s singers? If she’s smart, maybe Cindy Lauper might get a song out of KINKY BOOTS that makes it to the radio but did anything come from SPRING AWAKENING or BRING IT ON? So if you don’t have the material *coming* from Broadway, you can’t *sell* it at Colony (high-priced or rude sales people not withstanding)

  • Tracye says:

    I started making trips to NYC in 1997 and every trip involved stopping in Colony to peruse the stacks of music and albums and show librettos. There’s something about being able to flip through music to get inspired. I always left with a very big bill.

    Yes, everything was overpriced and you definitely tried to avoid the very crabby, eccentric staff. But that staff was a bit of the uniqueness of the store. And I never would have made all those purchases at an online retailer. There was just something about buying from THE Broadway Music Store, right in the midst of it all. I will definitely miss it…..

  • Very upset about Colony’s closing, the color, flavor of the Broadway theater district goes with it. With the closing of so many stores selling sheet music in NYC, where do we go? It was delicious to be able, after a show, to step into Colony and find sheet music for the show you just caught…they had EVERYTHING in every key it seemed!
    You can’t really browse online, check out the arrangement,view what else is in a song collection, etc….do you really want to print music out on flimsy 8″x11″ paper? You use your own ink,paper…and then PAY for the arrangement? Makes no sense and buying online always involve costly shipping charges.
    A few weeks ago, the NYTimes reported that people are dumping their family pianos,they take up too much room! You can’t give them away they are actually being smashed to bits. Many apartment houses in NYC will not welcome pianos, no one plays anymore, it’s all electronic etc. Very upsetting. Larger issues at play here, the casual musician, like myself that loves American Musical Theater and enjoys playing the great American songbook with control of the dynamics, tempo, style can no longer do so. There is no vendor for the sheet music and no home for the piano. It’s considered a disturbance!!
    What a world…how did it all turn so quickly?

  • Debbie Saville says:

    I never like to see landmarks go away. I think it is very wise that in your past couple of blogs you are concerned with a growing indicator on Broadway that I already experience at the community/regional theater level. When I started acting in the 80’s it was an unbelievable moment to be selected for shows. I was like a sponge soaking in direction from all sources available. Twenty-eight years later, now as a director and producer, I still enter every project like it is the first one always starting over, filled with excited anticipation of where the production will go. But it is different now. At auditions, part of the process for me is handing out the rehearsal schedule, asking potential cast members if they can commit to the schedule as I want the cast to be as passionate for the production as I am. Should I even have to ask this question? As an executive board member with only one more year to serve in a six year term, we can’t get board members, we can’t fill the committees. It seems that volunteerism is declining rapidly, so it is hard to run the administrative end of a theater. We have a core of a few who keep this all together, running the executive, administrative end. We are also the actors, directors/producers/set desgin/build/lighting/sound whatever it takes to get a season up and running only to find audiences continue to decline. Walk-ins are getting to be greater numbers than reservations? I could write a book on the reasons why I feel this is the direction we are heading in… in fact the title will be “If This Is The American Dream…WAKE UP” Because the key for me whether it be in business, theater, etc… you have to have the core, the heart, the passion to commit and that is a growing concern for me.

  • pmeluso says:

    hey ken –

    **** yep, yep – it is shame. I almost always go to Colony after a show to do a quick broadway karaoke impulse buy – or at least try to (where oh where is Abz karaoke?) Nothing better than belting out a show on the ride home after you just saw it.

    **** I have to admit that although I used to buy sheet music there that came to an end once the internet came along. price, selection, and convenience are hard to compete with.

    **** I still buy show memorabilia at the theater. Intermission or after the show is the best time for that impulse buy. I certainly turn heads at the gym with my newsies T ;-/

    **** Broadway’s biggest fan base problem from my POV is the ticket price. I was a weekly regular at Cabaret at $100 and fairly regular at Chicago but now the prices have just gotten crazy. My front row center seat at newsies costs more than my flight to NY ($165+ – I moved NYC to FLA last year). I did it twice on my last trip in town last month but am trying to hold it to one for my next trip in Sept due to the price.

    **** And the box office games the shows (producers?) play are annoying as well. It used to be that scapling was illegal – or at least unethical. Now it’s simply done by the box office with premium seating. And holding back seats drives me crazy. If I’m willing to commit 6 months in advance I shouldn’t have to buy 12 rows back and on the side. Now I know these are all business tactics which maximize short term profits (and may very well be a necessity) but they work against building a fan base and selling tickets beyond the business, tourist, and one-timer trade.

    **** And make no mistake about it, having regulars in an audience goes a long way in loosening up the rest of the crowd. When cheers start before the curtain goes up it def ratchets up the anticipation for first timers and regulars will clap when appropriate unlike some other unappreciative or just unaware viewers.

    **** I know that Altarboyz was off-broadway so the math is way different, but the combination of an excellent show, that $35-$50 price point, and the early cheers from the back of the house made it a once a week(+) event for many holics like me.

    **** Broadway should have more rewards for regular/frequent buyers. Maybe I’m unaware about any fan community sites like the Altarholics had but I don’t see any special rewards to encourage repeat or bring a friend visits.

    **** that all said – thanks for all the great work you and your peers do. the number of projects you manage and the creatively you always bring are amazing. (Looking forward to “a few good men” – that movie is a keeper on my DVR)

    – enjoy – peter

  • Mike Lewis says:

    Well, for me…it’s part of an atmosphere that is disappearing, passing on if you will – the merchandise, the interior of the place (the layout, the floors, walls, etc.), the smell, and the attitude. From an architectural standpoint, that can’t be recreated. It can’t be fully recreated in film. The closest you can come is through a stage set…and that vehicle must be preserved.
    @Joanne – My dad played piano (keyboards weren’t around then) for the Ice Capades for quite a number of years. Walk down to the pit, nowadays and you typically won’t find a Knabe, Mason & Hamlin , or Steinway. It’ll be one or more Kurzweil, Yamaha, or Korg keyboards. …at a renowned record producer’s studio a few weeks ago – live drums and guitars, no piano, but keyboards. Pianos are rarer in the professional world, too.
    At a show that recently closed, it was just great to see an upright piano in action at one end of the stage, with the rest of the band spread among the audience. It made a difference and really fit the character of the show. Thank you! (Godspell)

  • musical lover says:

    It is unfortunate, but it was an outdated business model that could not survive. I have bought things there, but they often charge MORE than list price, and you can always find it online for about 40-50% off list price. Maybe they should have had live entertainment, something else that people could pay for.

  • While I agree that there are certain things about the Broadway brand that are in jeopardy, I’m not sure we can come to the conclusion that the closing of these stores is a sign of Broadway’s demise.

    The heart of the Broadway brand is nothing more than experience and spectacle. This is the unique selling proposition or USP. We can get entertainment practically anywhere these days. And memorabilia can be bought all over the world as originals or knockoffs. But the authentic Broadway experience can only really be had in one place on earth: NYC’s theater district. So the fact that people are not buying memorabilia at a Broadway shop doesn’t really concern me in and of itself. It’s more that this shop (and many others like it) are not investing in the experience of Broadway first and making it as accessible as possible to the largest number of fans.

    There are plenty of ways that The Colony could have kept itself in business. The “somewhat cranky staff” could have been replaced by actors and singers (in a town where B and C talent are A talent or nearly, and most of them are out of work) creating theater inside the store while they sell. That would have made for a truly unique “Broadway experience” inside the store. And from a cash standpoint, if things are selling on the Internet it’s not difficult nowadays to find a smart kid to set up a successful eBay store for next to no money.

    But the fact that they didn’t do the above is what’s really going wrong with Broadway as a whole. The Broadway brand needs to make its spectacle and experience more accessible. It’s one thing to see the lights and signs and lines going into theaters. But remember that these things are generally behind a $300 to $1000 wall of two or more monumentally expensive tickets. For those uninitiated to the pleasures of the theater, this is a huge barrier. Sure, seeing a song performed during the Macy’s parade or on the Today Show helps to captivate a wider audience, but what about those on Broadway right now? What are we doing for them? More importantly, what are they doing for them?

    Fixing the Broadway brand requires bringing Broadway out of the theaters and making it part of the entire experience of being on Broadway. Stores and street corners should be filled with the songs and stories that are happening behind the box offices. Hawkers should be replaced with performers, bringing the spectacle alive and making them want more.

    I know I’m making this sound simple and it’s not. I realize there are many hurdles to overcome, not least of which is gaining the cooperation of so many independent theater and retail operations. But we need to start remembering that the Broadway brand is ultimately how people feel when they arrive, participate and remember being on Broadway – even if they never make it to a show! The more we improve this part and the more we make it accessible to those who come here, the higher all the boats will float.

  • Cheryl Palmour says:

    So sad to see Colony Music closing its doors. I always go there when I come to NYC. I usually buy music which I can’t find elsewhere. The salespeople were always helpful to me in locating what I needed.

  • Randy Cole says:

    @Robert Knorpp – I feel you have pegged it. Bringing the experience of theatre outside of the theatre walls is essential to building the Broadway brand.

    My wife and I were just in Nashville (among many reasons to see THE NUTTY PROFESSOR) and took in the country music scene to its fullest. Yes we had tickets booked in advance to the Grand Ole Opry, and we planned a tour of the historic Ryman Theater. But what blew my mind was the kind of support for Country Music up and down Nashville’s Broadway street.

    Honkey Tonk after Honkey Tonk featured bands playing noon through night with no cover, simply a pass of the music jar after each set (Don’t Tell Mamma’s anyone??) We experienced audiences of all ages, and I mean six year old children with their parents, folks in the twenties up through their seventies all experiencing the music that Nashville is known for. Some of it was the new sound, some was classic … but it all supported that brand of Country Music.

    What our Broadway in NYC needs is precisely that. Give me three or ten places that are easy to get in and out of, with decent operating hours and that provide sampling of the Broadway product for all ages.

    I left Nashville with a renewed love of Country Music (disclaimer: I just truly love music of all kinds), and found myself a little jealous that Nashville has what Broadway could use more of.

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Ken Davenport
Ken Davenport

Tony Award-Winning Broadway Producer

I'm on a mission to help 5000 shows get produced by 2025.

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