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Amherst Music House joins other businesses leaving Carriage Shops with building’s sale pending

JASON PICARD
Steven Toplitz, owner of Amherst Music House, in his business on Saturday afternoon, April 19th.

JASON PICARD Steven Toplitz, owner of Amherst Music House, in his business on Saturday afternoon, April 19th. Purchase photo reprints »

Steven Toplitz, the owner of the Amherst Music House, located in the Amherst Carriage Shops, said he has also catered to musicians on their way up, including J Mascis, who grew up in Amherst and formed the band Dinosaur Jr.

“I think I sold him his first guitar,” Toplitz said.

But this will come to an end when Toplitz, 66, closes his shop this spring, due to the likely sale of the Carriages Shops building for redevelopment.

Archipelago Investments LLC of Amherst has made a $4.6 million offer to purchase the 233 North Pleasant St. site from Jerald Gates and other members of the condominium trust. While plans have yet to be unveiled, the development that would replace the shops is reported to be a multi-story, mixed-use building that would have retail stores on the ground level and apartments or condominiums on the upper floors.

Other Carriage Shop tenants are finding new spots as well, including Amherst Wines and Spirits, which is moving to College Street, Glazed Doughnut Shop and Casimir Kocot salon, both going to other downtown locations, and Purele Brows, which will move to Hadley. Others, like the Kestrel Trust and King’s Tailoring, have not yet made plans to relocate.

Toplitz’s decision to close rather than move is motivated by a decline in sales, he said.

“Internet has demolished the business,” said Toplitz, adding that there seems to be less foot traffic during the day in Amherst, with those coming to the downtown seeking out dining options and other services, rather than retail stores.

“My goal is to be out by the end of May,” Toplitz said. “Once I made the decision, I’d like to have my summer off.”

Once he retires, Toplitz said, he will have more time to spend with his wife and their pre-teen children adopted from the Ukraine.

Toplitz, who opened the store in 1972, said its heyday was in the 1970s and 1980s. He said he helped numerous teenagers get their start in music over the years, and some, like Mascis, went on to form bands. They came into the store after school, he said. Now he is seeing some of them bringing their own children into his shop.

Amherst Music House also has specialized in sheet music, with hundreds of books lining the shelves. Toplitz said his selection once attracted customers from more than 50 miles away.

This, too, has diminished because so much is available online. “In all of New York City, there’s no sheet music shop,” Toplitz said.

Toplitz is beginning his shutdown with a 20 percent discount on all products, including guitars, ukuleles and amplifiers, guitar picks and strings, drum sticks, metronomes and various other accessories.

Another shop going

During his tenure, Toplitz saw numerous shops come and go. One that has been at the Carriage Shops for about half as long as his is Amherst Wines and Spirits. But owner Stephen Freedman plans to move to 320 College St., most likely in the fall.

Freedman opened the store in 1994, coming to the area from New York. He said he was looking for both a place in his home state to raise his two young children and to realize his long-term dream of opening a wine shop.

More than 800 items, including wines, spirits and beers, are sold at his store, but the emphasis has always been on wines, with racks separated into whites on one side of the store and reds on the other side. They are accompanied by written descriptions of the wines. Maps on the walls show where they are from.

“I’m focused like a laser on wines and selection,” said Freedman, observing that he tries to get many wines in the $10 price range.

Freedman, who holds Saturday wine tastings, said he does not expect the store to change significantly when he moves.

He said limited adjacent parking makes staying in the town center impractical. “That dream of staying as a downtown store would be difficult for me,” Freedman said.

Representatives of other Carriage Shops tenants, Kestrel Trust, Hampshire Mosque and King’s Tailoring, say they are working on relocating but have no firm plans yet.

King’s Tailoring owner Fikriye King said she has not yet been able to find an affordable space.

The Carriage Shops always had a funky (in a good way), hometown feel, and I liked supporting several of the businesses there. This change feels like one I can also support (as opposed to the Retreat, or Retreat-like, party animal housing downtown). But it seems that a deal this large could build in some costs for both buyer and seller, funding the moves and renovation for the very small businesses that will be seriously burdened. That would be a win/win that would make Archipelago and Jerald Gates real local heroes.

There is something wonderful about going into a physical store where the owner is on the premises and has full knowledge of what he is selling. The breadth of Steve's knowledge is not replaceable--not by the ease of shopping on the Internet and especially not by the silence of it.

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