Business of the Month: Matt Umanov Guitars
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Greenwich Village and music are a pairing that seems to have existed for as long as the neighborhood has been around, yet where does one here go about finding an instrument? If you’re looking to follow in the footsteps of Bob Dylan or Lou Reed, then look no further than Matt Umanov Guitars. Matt Umanov has been in the guitar business since 1965, starting out performing independent repairs and restorations before opening his repair and sale shop on Bleecker Street in 1969. Matt’s shop has since remained a defining presence of the village, and his reputation and the reputation of the shop has only grown. Matt is considered one of the best if not the best guitar repairer and restorer in the city, and he is known to carry only the finest guitars, banjos, and other quality American bred instruments.
Recently, GVSHP was able to talk with Matt and learn more about his business and how it established such a strong foundation within the neighborhood. Matt has also participated in our new oral history project, offering his own insight and anecdotes when discussing the South Village.
When Matt first opened his store, Bleecker Street was a much different place than it is now, and he was the one of the only retail operations on the block:
“This place became available on Bleecker Street at 276 Bleecker, which today is the second smaller room of John’s [of Bleecker Street] Pizzeria, right across the street from me. I took that place, and it was astounding what happened. Bedford Street’s kind of backwater. The only people who would ever come in [were] people who knew about it—recommendation, et cetera, et cetera. It was totally word-of-mouth, 100 percent. Nobody walked down Bedford Street in those years. The little restaurants that are there now did not exist. There was a wiseguy baron the corner. There was a real estate agent. There was a gypsy next door, and I was the only retail operation on Bedford Street…” (Umanov p. 7)
Other than the occasional famous musician who will walk into his store, Matt really strove to have a very straightforward business with no big surprises for his clients and customers:
“What we’re known for is having high quality stuff, only really nice instruments, not necessarily only expensive ones, everything here regardless of price range has to meet my criteria for how well it’s made. No junk, only good stuff. We have a wonderful staff, they’re all knowledgeable, polite, and helpful, it’s what we’re known for. That and we still do the repairs and restorations, we have been known for doing the very best guitar repairs and stuff in New York since the 1960’s, but it’s not exactly a surprise.”
He also told us what he loves most about being a part of the Village:
“It’s great! It’s neighborly, it’s small, we have people who have been here a long time, we have communities, we have funny little streets. We’re not midtown, we’re not corporate, we don’t have giant buildings, it’s a neighborhood, it’s a real, honest to god neighborhood that’s been developing one way or another for many years and we still have our own unique character. Much of it thanks to GVSHP, obviously to be commended for all the efforts of Andrew Berman.”
As for whether Matt would move from Bleecker Street or the Village, his mind is made up to stay and he only has to look to folk singer Dave Von Ronk for his reason why:
“Why would I want to move? [laughs] Here’s the best quote I ever heard on that—Dave Von Ronk, you know who he was? He was one of the seminal folk singers. Somebody once asked—he lived over on Christopher Street—somebody once asked, “Dave, would you ever consider living anyplace other than Greenwich Village?” He says, “Why should I go anyplace else? I’m already here.” As far as I’m concerned my location is on the best block of the best segment of the best street in the entire city of New York that I could possibly have my store on. I wouldn’t want it on any other block of any other street. I love it there. I love it. It’s great.” (Umanov p.26)
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