Status Updates: How Top Flute Retailers Persevered Through the Pandemic
By Elaina Palada
Flute retailers around the country have been challenged to provide for their communities during these unprecedented times. Over the past few weeks, representatives from some of the major flute retailers across the nation shared their perspectives on business operations during the pandemic. This article presents how these companies continued to be available to, and supportive of, the flute community despite the unusual circumstances. Many of them found ways to use the challenges of the pandemic as an opportunity to enhance and redefine their in-store experiences. The following list, organized by alphabetical order, highlights how six prominent flute retailers navigated the hardships of the previous seventeen months.
Carolyn Nussbaum Music Company
From the beginning of the pandemic shutdown, Carolyn Nussbaum, owner of the company that shares her name, emphasized that her top priority is the health and safety of staff and customers. “My number one goal was to make sure that my staff was taken care of and that if my customers needed anything, I could be able to provide it when they are stuck at home,” Nussbaum said. With the safety of her staff and customers assured, Nussbaum could face the challenges presented by the cancellation of the National Flute Association Convention in 2020. Located in Plano, TX, Nussbaum shared, “We had been preparing all year for the National Flute Association Convention in Dallas, which was basically in our backyard.” While the cancelled convention was disappointing, one positive of the extensive planning was that it enabled the music company to have a well-stocked inventory for their customers. The pandemic also reinforced the importance of annual flute maintenance and COAs (Clean, Oil, and Adjust). Nussbaum compared flute maintenance to car maintenance, saying that this is the same reason why people get their car serviced regularly with oil changes. “That has been one good thing that’s come out of this pandemic: people are finding out how important it is to get their flutes serviced each year.”
Based in Los Angeles, Flutacious! bravely handled being located in the midst of the west coast coronavirus epicenter, under one of the longest shut-downs in the history of the United States. Despite this challenge, they continued to serve their community through utilizing the space of their intimate studio location. Cynthia Kelley, owner of Flutacious!, spoke about the transition back into regular business operations. She noted that wind instruments, especially flutes, are at a disadvantage for having in-person gatherings because of the difficulty of trying instruments with masks on. However, Kelley shared that their current flute trial process is running much like normal times with people trying flutes in-person and lots of flutes being shipped out to clients. “I’m all about making sure each customer is happy,” said Kelley. Regardless of the pandemic’s limitations on the music industry, this “West Coast Flute Specialty Shop” has proven that flute retailers are able to fully-function and serve its community.
Flute Center of New York
“I really thought this could be the death of what took 40 years to build. I didn’t know how the business could survive this, but we found that it was quite the opposite—we thrived,” said Phil Unger, owner of Flute Center of New York (FCNY). Reflecting on the past year, Unger shared his experience of being in New York City when the pandemic unfolded and adapting quickly to the city’s closure. FCNY was placed in the unique situation of moving their entire inventory of flutes into his Brooklyn apartment within 24 hours because they were not sure if they could access their commercial building in Manhattan. Unger also mentioned that a large function of their business is their online presence. FCNY works directly with influencers in the flute world who provide positive exposure for everyone and also fills the flute world with beautiful and exciting music. Unger remarked, “We were very fortunate to have spent an incredible amount of time and energy in branding our company.” In today’s day and age, flute retailers like FCNY have successfully utilized social media and technology to engage with more people.
Tatiana Cassetta, Artist-in-Residence at Flute Specialists in Clawson, Michigan, shared that the pandemic allowed their store to develop inventive ways to connect with more of the flute community. As a store that travels frequently for their business, the challenge for Flute Specialists was to figure out how to reach customers and let them know that they are still available to them. “I think it was more that we started to grow during the pandemic because it made us think creatively,” said Cassetta. Flute Specialists found ways to connect with customers by designing interactive online content like their interview series “Flutespresso,” where they chatted with flutists across the country. Cassetta also shared, “One thing I love about working at Flute Specialists is how amazing Robert Johnson is.” At the beginning of the pandemic shutdown, Johnson, owner and founder of Flute Specialists, decided to host an online contest where cash prizes were awarded to people who submitted performances as a way to support musicians. For Cassetta, what makes Flute Specialists unique is their generosity, and their ability to understand different flutists and meet them where they are despite the pandemic hardships.
“It happened like dominoes,” said Sarah Hollandsworth, Director of Sales and Marketing at Flute World. Each Flute World store location (Charlotte, Detroit, and San Francisco) closed down retail operations at different times because of independent local and federal mandates. Hollandsworth noted that there was a decline in student and intermediate-level flute purchases during the past academic year since most students had minimal in-person ensemble experiences. Despite the decline in business during the pandemic, Flute World used this time to think long-term and examine their internal operations across the company. “We are more stream-lined, more efficient, and better equipped to service our customers post-pandemic,” said Hollandsworth. Additionally, Flute World expressed profound gratitude in their amazing team members and their customers who united in purpose and resilience during these turbulent times.
Flutistry, with locations in Boston and Tampa, prides itself on providing a thorough trial experience to help customers find the right combination “for their artistic evolution.” Erica Schiller, Vice President of Flutistry, shared her thoughts on the hardships from the past year and how Flutistry overcame them. One of their biggest challenges was being physically separated from clients during the trial process. “We had to rethink how we help people and how we listen if we cannot be in the same room,” Schiller said. With that in mind, Flutistry created the “Trial Studio,” which consists of ready-to-use trial kits with microphones, headphones, and online tools to recreate the in-person experience through a remote setting. In addition to this trial program, they created the #flutistory campaign on social media as a fundraiser for a BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) recording project as part of their ten year anniversary. Flutistry is an excellent example of an artistic organization that repurposed their creativity to navigate the challenges of the pandemic.
If the pandemic has taught us anything about the flute industry, it’s that flute players, and the companies who make up our community, are resilient and innovative. Flute stores across the United States have been the foundation of opportunities and connections within the flute community. Despite the unprecedented times, these flute companies demonstrated flexibility, creativity, and perseverance by keeping full inventories, enabling flute trials, and facilitating regular maintenance. As we look forward to a new academic year, and even as we face potential complications in the resurgence of the pandemic, flute retailers will continue to provide quality services for their customers. The flute community is so fortunate to be supported by dedicated businesses who find ways to make their lives better and easier.
Elaina Palada is a second-year Master’s student in Flute Performance at Northwestern University. Originally from Gilbertsville, New York, Elaina graduated from Syracuse University with a Bachelor’s degree in Music Education with performance honors. Her primary teachers include John Thorne, Kelly Covert, and Ana Laura Gonzalez. As a passionate musician and educator, Elaina plans to actively seek performance and teaching opportunities after completing her degree.