• Mandolin Brothers Seeking New Owner

    A year after vintage instrument pioneer Stan Jay lost his battle with Mantle Cell Lymphoma, a difficult decision and uncertainty face the owners of Mandolin Brothers of Staten Island, N.Y.

    In the past month a notice on the store web site requests visits by appointment. Acquisition of new inventory has stopped and the family is now actively seeking a new owner.

    Stan's extended illness leading up to his passing and the challenges facing a family business in his absence strained resources. Then the business suffered a crippling loss of internet service and point of sale system for over 30 days in March.

    In the wake of these events, the family made the decision their role as owner and operator of Mandolin Brothers since December 14, 1971 will cease at some point in the future. But how that all unfolds is yet unknown.

    Alison and Eric Jay have managed the business since Stan's passing and we spoke with them recently about the decision.

    What is the state of Mandolin Brothers as a business?

    Eric Jay: At our peak two years ago when our father was in good health we carried about 800 instruments. Right now we're down to about 130. As a result, our staff has decreased so it's pretty much the two of to handle most of the business. Due to our need to downsize it placed a lot of burden on us.

    Winter and spring sales were good but summer was very slow. At that time of year we typically receive a good number of international visitors from Europe and as far as Australia and New Zealand. This year the U.S. dollar was stronger so we'd get the same visitors but they wouldn't buy as in years past when the dollar was weaker. In March our web server and point of sale operating system went down including our email and everything computer related. We lost a lot of business as a result, and it was a loss we couldn't make up.

    Alison Jay: It took us awhile to really figure out what was going to happen. Stan didn't have a plan for a time that he wouldn't be here running the store, so when he got sick we tried to keep things going as normal as can be. When he passed away the company was inherited by our mother. Although she was unsure about the future of the store, she supported our decision to keep it open and we agreed to check in every 3-4 months to discuss any future plans. Ultimately, she didn't want to be locked down to owning the store and wasn't in the position to just give it to us and say, "Here, do what you want." The decision to keep the store open equated to the entire family betting on the business being successful without Stan, and it's a large bet.

    Eric: In terms of staff, our long-time bookkeeper Bonnie still works a couple of days a week, as does Jason, the head of our repair department. While Jason finishes the work for the company, he's taking on jobs and transitioning to being fully independent. We have also have few other repair techs who are working on a freelance basis.

    What are your hopes for a new owner?

    Eric: Ideally a new owner will be someone knowledgeable and passionate about this kind of business and can handle related business costs to get it back to where it was a few years ago. We don't have those means. We'd prefer to see the store maintained somewhere nearby, within the New York Metro area. If not we'd still sell the business but not be able to work there. If selling it in general doesn't happen, we plan close the store and liquidate the inventory.

    Thus far we have we have met with several interested people looking to perhaps own a portion of the company, but as of late but nothing has panned out.

    Stanley Jay Way

    May 20, 2015, the city of Staten Island renames a street not far from Mandolin Brothers on Forest Avenue between Oakland and Pelton Avenues as "Stanley Jay Way." L-R: Eric Jay, Councilwoman Debi Rose, Alison Jay and family and Eric and Alison's mother, Bea.

    What was behind the decision of visits by appointment?

    Alison: because it's only Eric and me in the showroom and we're short staffed and may be in the other building we're preparing to sell, we can't leave the store unlocked. We have visitors from all over the world and don't want someone that made the trek from Australia to Staten Island finding a locked door. Although we're usually here six days a week during business hours, we want to know who's coming so we can plan accordingly.

    The past year leading up to this decision has probably been a struggle. What was that experience like?

    Alison: This year has had ups and downs. Running the store with Eric has been a tremendous learning experience for both of us. I've learned more about fretted instruments in the last year than I have in the previous 18 years of working at the store. Speaking to people about the potential value of their instrument has become something I feel more confident about and can be very exciting at times. On the downside, running a small business can definitely be stressful. Since Stan died I think I've been doing a job that used to be covered by about five or six people.

    Eric: Initially we had a bit of learning curve when it came to evaluating vintage instruments and we got a good sense of what it was like for our father. It was rewarding to find rare and/or excessively valuable instruments, evaluate them and eventually sell them on consignment. During the month our server went down, we had an extremely hard time trying to manage the store without internet, email or any point-of-sale software. The loss of sales at that time substantially effected our overall budget and it was extremely frustrating to say the least. Over the last 12 months we definitely got a taste of both the highs and lows of the business.

    Alison: If we don't find a buyer for the business we will likely close the store. It will be a emotional good-bye. Eric and I grew up here in the store. When we were kids we were dropped off at the store after school to wait 3-4 hours until our Mom picked us up. This is in addition to working here for two decades side by side with our Dad.

    It's hard to think about a day when we close the doors for good. For me it's like saying good-bye to my father again because this place was so much a part of him. Being here in the store and talking to people all over the world who mourn and miss him has been very comforting. Knowing I'm not alone in missing him means a lot to me.

    Additional information

    Comments 20 Comments
    1. theCOOP's Avatar
      theCOOP -
      Alison Jay: It took us awhile to really figure out what was going to happen. Stan didn't have a plan for a time that he wouldn't be here running the store, so when he got sick we tried to keep things going as normal as can be.
      Let this be a lesson to business owners, talk to your insurance broker about Key-Person coverage.
    1. MikeEdgerton's Avatar
      MikeEdgerton -
      The bigger problem will be finding someone with the knowledge to run the place that has the money to buy it. There are people that have managed to transition the loss of the founder (think First Quality) but they rarely end up looking like they did.
    1. PJ Doland's Avatar
      PJ Doland -
      I can't help wondering if they've considered moving off Staten Island. I know people who have lived in New York City their entire lives and never bothered to go there.
    1. MikeEdgerton's Avatar
      MikeEdgerton -
      Quote Originally Posted by PJ Doland View Post
      I can't help wondering if they've considered moving off Staten Island. I know people who have lived in New York City their entire lives and never bothered to go there.
      There are people I know in Manhattan that have never been to New Jersey or Brooklyn either. You can't base it on that. The majority of their customers were going to travel to go there no matter where they were from. The other boros as well as Staten Island have a large population but I'm guessing the bulk of the sales weren't necessarily from the city.
    1. Petrus's Avatar
      Petrus -
      I'd pick Lower East Side / East Village if it were up to me. Ridiculously expensive these days, but so is Staten Island.
    1. jnikora's Avatar
      jnikora -
      A really fine and revealing interview.

      I traveled from Wisconsin twice to the "city" and took detours both times to Staten Island to see Mandolin Bros. - an institution whose ads I have watched, mailings I have received, incredible instruments I have played, former personnel's exploits I have followed and stories about which I have heard for decades. I was treated with absolute respect and dignity there. Questions were always answered honestly and "secret" stashes of "Ferns" and other treasures were revealed.

      Eric and Allison are as honest and forthcoming as their Dad, though nobody quite has his linguistic flair. I certainly hope they can find someone to carry on - it is a one-of-a-kind institution and its closing will be all of our loss.

      Best of luck!

    1. theCOOP's Avatar
      theCOOP -
      I've been to Staten Island three times. All in the same night while lost, driving frantically around Manhattan in late August 2000 after seeing RENT.

      Girlfriend, crying:"would you stop so I can figure where we are?"
      Me: "I'm not stopping because I don't know where we are!"
    1. MikeEdgerton's Avatar
      MikeEdgerton -
      When I first moved to the NYC Metropolitan area 35 years ago or so from Oregon there wasn't a thing called a GPS. The first thing I did was buy all the Boro maps for NYC, the county maps for Long Island, North New Jersey, Westchester, and Southern Connecticut. This area isn't someplace you want to go without a GPS and a little knowledge of the geography.
    1. AlanN's Avatar
      AlanN -
      When my grandmother on my mother's side passed away in 1977, she left me and my two brothers $1,000 each. The next summer, I headed down the New Jersey Turnpike to MB and purchased my first vintage mandolin, a ca. early 60's Gibson A-40, for $325.00; top painted white, no case - still have it, the receipt and accompanying letter from Stan (in Stan-speak). The Goethal's Bridge toll was probably $1.50.

      I hope the family realizes its desires.
    1. Oliver A.'s Avatar
      Oliver A. -
      It was a pleasure to deal with Stan. I used to read his monthly newsletter as much for the entertainment value as the education in vintage fretted instruments. It was a very big thrill for me whenever Stan wrote a description of one of my mandolins in there. It will be very difficult to find someone who can run Mandolin Bros. with the personality that Stan gave it.

      I wish his family all the best in this difficult time.
    1. theCOOP's Avatar
      theCOOP -
      The last time I crossed the bridge the toll guy charged us $20 for directions...we were still lost for some time.

      We got into Manhattan easy enough from slightly upstate (Saugerties KOA Campground?), though we entered through Harlem unintentionally by way of the Bronx, passing Yankee Stadium on our left. Shortly after crossing g one of the bridges we turned left from a surface road onto a boulevard in Harlem and drove straight up to near Bryant Part, leaving the car at a parking garage (with car elevator) on some side street. Somehow when left, we ended up in Long Island instead of heading North.

      Crossed Brooklyn Bridge two or three times. Ended up at Newark airport and of course, Staten Island. I wish now that we had a GPS, if only to track where we had been over the course of three to four hours.

      Same trip we got lost in Boston too during the height of the Big Dig, lost in Buffalo briefly and Toronto briefly. Otherwise, we unintentionally bypassed Montreal on the way back home.
    1. delsbrother's Avatar
      delsbrother -
      Note to self: Never drive with theCOOP.
    1. EdHanrahan's Avatar
      EdHanrahan -
      In my six or eight visits over the past 20 years, I probably spent a total of less than an an hour actually talking to Stan. But he had such a talent for making his customers feel like friends that you just had to like him. And advice? More than once he came up with a recommendation that was so out of left field, or at least off my radar, that my first reaction was a (mental) "Ya gotta be kiddin'!"... except that he proved to be spot on! Can't believe how much I miss him.
    1. barney 59's Avatar
      barney 59 -
      It isn't clear to me that a new owner would have to move to another building or not. I'd keep it where it is if possible if I was going to try and retain Mandolin Bros. to resemble what it was under Stan. I found it easy to find personally-take the ferry get on the bus and in a few blocks your there. It's worked for decades! What I find with all these guys Stan Jay, Eric Schoenberg, Stu Cohen etc. is that what they have to sell is their vast amount of knowledge and their networking skills to be able to consistently and continuously have the right stuff in their shops. You can't buy that at any price!
    1. Scott Tichenor's Avatar
      Scott Tichenor -
      Crane's New York Business picks up the story. Not a lot new to learn but well written, as we'd expect.

    1. MoreMando's Avatar
      MoreMando -
      I'm a life-long Manhattanite who has been to Staten Island more times than I can count, but I only heard of Mandolin Brothers a few years ago when a friend who lives there mentioned them -- and yes I've also been to New Jersey and the other boroughs.

      We used to have numerous music shops here in Manhattan. Nowadays not as many. Matty Umanov is my local shop for strings, picks, etc. My guess is the majority of Mandolin Brothers' clients are serious musicians who are more than willing to pay the tolls and navigate the route.

      Moving to the Village, East Village, Lower East Side or Williamsburg could be interesting. They'd probably get a lot more people walking in off the street, which they may or may not, consider a good thing.
    1. EdHanrahan's Avatar
      EdHanrahan -
      Quote Originally Posted by MoreMando View Post
      ... My guess is the majority of Mandolin Brothers' clients are serious musicians who are more than willing to pay the tolls and navigate the route.
      "Serious" musicians sort of implies "professional"; I'd make that "enthusiastic", because the majority really are hobbyists.

      In an article several years ago, Stan compared his customers with those of realtors. While a realtor may require pay stubs, bank statements, and maybe tax returns to "qualify" a potential customer, Stan figured that anyone who can find their way to his door (a not especially inviting one, at that) is "qualified" to enter and be his guest, try out some instruments, and, hopefully, become a customer. If not today, maybe the next time.
    1. MoreMando's Avatar
      MoreMando -
      On the local cable news channel
    1. MikeEdgerton's Avatar
      MikeEdgerton -
      I don't think the Staten Island location hurt Stan's business. There is something to be said also for the local business he had as a local music store. Stan Jay prospered in the location and moving to Manhattan would be a huge raise in the overhead of the shop that I doubt would be made up in additional business beyond what he had. The bigger problem is that there aren't a whole lot of Stan Jay's out there, and anyone of his caliber is probably already in business doing something. It's also hard to get out of the shadow of your larger than life parent and Stan really was larger than life. I hope they find an angel.
    1. fifths's Avatar
      fifths -
      And in the NY Times today