Luis Infantas has worked at Sam Ash for nearly three decades. He never thought he’d live to see it close, but on Sunday the sales manager watched the W34th Street store empty out, instrument by instrument.

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Luis Infantas at Sam Ash Music Store on W34th Street on Sunday. Photo: Celia Young

“It took a little bit of a toll on me,” Infantas said. “You have a store full of equipment and every morning it’s just getting emptier, emptier, emptier. Just the visual alone was something. [Sam Ash] meant a lot to a lot of people.” 

Infantas — sporting a feathered hat, heavy-framed glasses and a blazer over his black jeans — was one of the handful of employees managing Sam Ash’s final days at 333 W34th Street. It’s official closing date is on May 31, Sam Ash CEO David Ash told W42ST — but the store didn’t open on Memorial Day. 

Customers milled about the near-barren store on Sunday, sifting through guitar cases and miscellaneous sheet music. Some were ecstatic at the 90 percent-off discounted goods. Others, such as Upper West Sider Richard Weiss, were heartbroken at the loss.

The W34th Street store was busy on its final day on Sunday. Photo: Celia Young

“It’s very sad — I don’t know where people buy their instruments,” said Weiss, who fondly remembered going to Sam Ash’s location in Hempstead, Long Island as a child.

All of Sam Ash’s 46 stores will shutter on May 31, except for its Brooklyn location which will stay open until the end of July, Ash said. The chain filed for bankruptcy in May, after initially closing 18 of its outposts nationwide earlier this year. 

But in a tale familiar to many big box retailers, a shift to online shopping made Sam Ash’s business untenable even with the earlier closures, Ash said. 

“It’s the same story as most retailers that are closing stores all over,” Ash said. “[Our big box stores] worked very well for a long time, but with the pandemic, business moved to the internet. People wanted convenience rather than everything else. The rents and expenses of big stores didn’t reflect that, so it became unviable and the stores began to lose money.”

The Ash family has run the hundred-year-old chain since Austrian immigrant Sam Ash started the business in 1924, using $400 he and his wife Rose got after pawning her engagement ring. After its Brooklyn beginnings, the Ash family expanded the business in Long Island and on Music Row on W48th Street, before the Manhattan location moved to W34th Street in 2013. 

Many famous musicians passed through its doors. The Hell’s Kitchen location once sold equipment to iconic hip hop group the Wu-Tang Clan. It hosted rock star and former lead guitarist of KISS Ace Frehley for an album signing. Ash recalled Stevie Wonder, some members of rock band Steely Dan and even actress Bette Midler passing through his stores. 

“The kinds of people that we met on 48th Street were just absolutely wonderful,” Ash said. “All kinds of other brilliant musicians, and also just regular players. It was fantastic.”

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The Ash family has run the hundred-year-old chain since Austrian immigrant Sam Ash started the business in 1924. Photos: Sam Ash Archive

To Ash and many musicians, the store was as much a community as it was a business. Ash’s oldest memory takes place at Sam Ash’s Brooklyn outpost, when someone dropped a bass drum on top of him. (Don’t worry, he was fine, he said).

Whether customers were famous musicians or amateurs, they knew they could trust a Sam Ash associate, Infantas said. Patrons of all stripes could try out expensive equipment or just come to jam out for a bit.

“Sam Ash was one of those places where you could go, pick up a guitar, sit down and try it out,” Infantas said. “Most musicians love Sam Ash for that fact. Even if they couldn’t afford it, if that was the instrument of their dreams they could hold it in their hand, strum it and feel what it was like to hold.”

Luis Infantas at Sam Ash Music Store on W34th Street on Sunday. Photo: Celia Young

Infantas is a professional drummer in the band Black Rose Burning, and he’s one of many musicians mourning the closure of Sam Ash’s outposts nationwide. 

Thousands expressed their sadness at Sam Ash’s closure announcement on Instagram, among them metal guitarist and songwriter Angel Vivaldi, lead guitarist of Testament Alex Skolnick, heavy metal guitarist Christopher Caffery and producer Trevor Lawrence Jr, who has worked with artists including Herbie Hancock and Bruno Mars. 

Still, Ash himself was hopeful that an investor would purchase the business out of bankruptcy, including its more successful online shop and its wholesale manufacturing business. 

As for Infantas, his time at Sam Ash ends just as his band Black Rose Burning is about to embark on a tour. He said he was grateful for what his time at Sam Ash taught him about music, though he wondered how he would fill his time between gigs.

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The scene at the Sam Ash Store on Sunday on the last day of trading on W34th Street. Photo: Celia Young

“That’s another thing Sam Ash taught me: I was surrounded by musicians, [so] I got the real perspective of what music entails. It became more like work. You have to learn the skills to create real music,” Infantas said. “Closing this last month has been somber, but yet, it’s a conclusion.”

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