By JOHN T. WARD
Even as he was buying Monmouth Music two years ago, Mario DiBartolo knew he was swimming against the current that has swamped so many small retailers in the past two decades.
Yes, he hoped to retain the Red Bank store’s loyal customers and continue selling guitars and other musical instruments, he told redbankgreen last year. But his investment was really in the Monmouth Street real estate that housed the 30-year-old business, he said.
Now, he’s throwing in the towel on retail.
In coming weeks, after an inventory selldown and store renovations, Monmouth Music will be replaced by the STEM Music Academy. Playing off the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math instruction that’s become standard in schools, the new business will offer music instruction via those disciplines, according to the academy’s website.
A sign in the window describes it as “an innovative, high-tech new way to teach music, applying a hands-on approach using Science, Technology, Engineering and Math.”
The methodology includes “a modern application of using DJ Training mixed with traditional music theory – performance” to teach math and music, according to information on the website.
DiBartolo could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
Ryan McKenna, a store employee, said he was “cautiously optimistic” his employment, and the jobs of others in the retailing side, would continue in new capacities.
“I think it’s a great idea, and we’re getting a lot of positive reaction from customers,” he said of the transformation.
The school approach is consistent with DiBartolo’s view of the business since day one.
“Our business here is lessons,” he told redbankgreen in April, 2017, noting the dozen or so instructors working at the shop. “We can’t compete with the Guitar Center,” he added, noting that many instrument and accessories manufacturers also now sell directly to consumers via the Internet, shattering traditional relationships with small music stores.
“The reality of this business is you can get this stuff online,” he said, adding that he intended to “operate the store to support the mortgage.”
DiBartolo, a guitar player himself, spent two decades in the corporate office of a retail clothing store chain before he bought Monmouth Music from Nick Trocchia, who had started the the business in 1987. “The real investment I’m making is in the building,” he said.
Monmouth County property records indicate DiBartolo paid $890,000 for the property.
McKenna said the changes would not affect Bob’s Guitar Hospital, owned by Bob Pinto, who has space at the rear entrance to the shop.