SAN ANTONIO (AP) — The Alamo Music Center survived the Great Depression, the oil and housing bust in the 1980s and shifts in consumer spending that have forced the business to downsize and other music stores in town to close.
The San Antonio Express-News reports this year, the family-run operation is turning 90. Customers say their knowledgeable staff, local ties and extensive inventory have made the business a go-to for both first-time players and seasoned musicians.
“They’re superior to any big-box store,” said Billy Snipes, a Port Aransas musician who has been visiting Alamo Music for nearly 40 years.
President and CEO Zach Marr, part of the fourth generation of family members to run the business started by Alfredo Flores Sr. in 1929, credits being “willing to change and adapt” for the store’s survival.
As customers’ preferences changed and online shopping took hold, the family expanded their instrument offerings, held events and contests, invested in e-commerce and started relying on social media and YouTube to reach more musicians and hobbyists.
Alamo Music also partners with local organizations such as the Gardenia Musical Club and Musical Bridges Around the World.
“We’ve doubled down on not abandoning the core values of building relationships, helping create musicians and supporting our community,” Marr said. “Using technology to do that is how we’ve grown and continue to be current and relevant. We try to encourage people to find fun, joy and community through music-making.”
Flores, who died in 2014, came to Texas as a child during the Mexican Revolution and started repairing and assembling pianos as a young man. During the Great Depression, a local bank asked him to handle picking up the pianos they repossessed.
Flores started buying used pianos, fixing them and putting them out on the front porch of his house on Avenue B. He called the business Fresh Air Piano Co.
Eventually he opened a store, changing the name to Alamo Piano Exchange and accepting guns, pigs and horses as payment for instruments, said Alfredo Flores Jr., his son and chairman of Alamo Music Center. He changed locations and names several more times before moving to the store’s downtown location at 425 North Main Ave. in the 1960s.
By the early 1980s, the retailer had opened multiple stores in San Antonio, Del Rio and Corpus Christi. But falling piano sales in Texas and nationwide hurt music stores, putting others out of business and forcing Alamo Music to downsize to its two current showrooms on North Main and at 1530 Babcock Road.
Today, they are one of the oldest surviving music stores in the state.