Mandolin Brothers Seeking New Owner


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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.



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