Mandolin Brothers, a.k.a. Mandolin Bros. 629 Forest Avenue, Staten Island, NY 10310. Tel. (718) 981-8585.
I interviewed former sales manager (now a band member of Stout) at work shortly before his appearance on The Early Show along with other staff members from this shop.
As he advised someone at the end of the line upon the proper nitrocellulose wax for cleaning a stained wooden guitar body, he told me that the philosophy of Mandolin Brothers was to give as much good quality information as possible to customers and prospective customers, even to the extent of helping people make decisions on stringed instruments they plan to purchase from other stores. “We even tell people when they would get a better deal in another store”, Ryan said.
Ryan claims that Mandolin Brothers are frequently the standard by which other guitar dealers are judged. “We do a lot of pro bono work,” he said, gesturing to the telephone earpiece. “Within the music world we are extremely well known as a source of information”. Indeed, everyone who works there seems to display an encyclopedic knowledge of vintage guitars and guitar anatomy. The music world being a relatively small one, Mandolin Brothers manages to be simultaneously famous and obscure, even though they have regularly run display ads in the Village Voice.
Established in 1971, its first location was a second-floor walk-up over a finance company at the corner of Beach and Bay Streets in St. George. Mandolin Brothers moved to its present Forest Avenue location nearly 32 years ago. Though there are several showrooms with every conceivable iteration of the guitar, banjo and dulcimer from floor to ceiling, “we need more room”, a salesperson said.
Mandolin Brothers was designated a Grammy Awards Music Trail site in 1994. ***Mandolin Brothers is a ROCK N ROLL HALL OF FAME SITE. The other one is the Nashville Hall of Fame. ***In spite of a seemingly remote location, Mandolin Brothers has had a steady stream of celebrity clients. “Of course, we are proud of having celebrities shop here”, Ryan said; “but we treat everybody as nicely as we possibly can”. “What I’ve found about celebrities is that if you treat them normally, they will act normally”. Vernon Reid from In Living Color is “here all the time”, according to Ryan. Another frequent customer is David Allen Grier, who is not only a comedian but a guitar player as well.
Mandolin Brothers’ clientele is not limited to rock musicians, but also includes professionals in every musical category, as well as local talent, church guitarists, and the occasional suburban dilettante. Off the tops of their heads, Mandolin Brothers staff can think of a few local guitar players who stand out in their minds: Vinnie Zummo, who played guitar for Joe Jackson and who has an album entitled “So to bed, so to rise”, featuring vocals by Janet Zummo. Janet Lafata, who has been in sales and customer service with Mandolin Brothers for nearly 23 years, remembered local talents David Joe Hanson, Vito Brada, and the late jazz musician Chuck Wayne. Bluegrass musician Ricky Skaggs is a “regular customer”, and Paul Simon, Bob Dylan, George Harrison, the Indigo Girls, Billy Squier, and “customer and friend” Joanie Mitchell have all gone to Mandolin Brothers for guitar repair or to shop.
However, half of Mandolin Brothers sales are orders from their catalogs (free catalogs are offered to all who come to the store). They also sell souvenir t-shirts and polo shirts and offer guitar picks with their name, phone number, and Internet address.
Mandolin Brothers has also been featured on the early morning edition of Channel 7 Eyewitness News (June 3 1998 broadcast, 5:30 a.m.) “We were in the shop and opened up at 4:30 that morning”, recalled Denny Ryan. Part of the program included on-location performances by Ricky Skaggs, Aerial Acoustics, Muriel Anderson, John Frink, and Bruce Hector. Meteorologist Bill Evans did his on-location weather report updates from the shop, and when 7:30 a.m. came around, segments shot at Mandolin Brothers were included in that morning’s broadcast of Good Morning America. Freelance writer Ron Dicker has also mentioned Mandolin Bros. shop in a Daily News feature article, Staten Island Hopping, Friday, July 24, 1998, pp. 66-67.