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The beat goes on at The Music Box

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We have a lot of treasures here: Helena Escolastica says The Music Box still has what you need (Photograph by Jessie Moniz Hardy)

There are a few things about The Music Box on Church Street that are missed by the average Hamilton shopper.

Long-time operators Helena and Geneveve Escolastica took over a decade ago when founder Eddie DeMello died, but people still wander into the store at 58 Reid Street, commenting that they had no idea the place was still open.

They want customers to know, they are still plying their trade in the increasingly difficult Bermuda retail market.

“They think we are closed,” said Helena Escolastica. And that’s not the only prevalent misconception.

“People have always assumed we were Eddie’s daughters. He would always tell people: ‘Go talk to my daughters’. But we are distant relatives.

“In fact, we are from the same town in the Azores - Lomba da Maia in Sao Miguel. You know he lived only a couple of streets away from us.”

The store still offers many of the things it did in the past, such as musical instruments, keyboards, guitar cables, music books and music stands.

“Some people come here as a last resort and manage to find what they need,” Ms Escolastica said. “We have a lot of treasures here.”

The Escolastica sisters have also put their own spin on things, by adding items such as crochet and knitting supplies, and also their own crocheted toys, and jewellery made by their sister-in-law, Terry Lee Escolastica of Esco Accessories Bermuda.

“Me and my sister have been knitters for over 20 years,” Ms Escolastica said. “We thought the natural progression would be to add something we know a little bit about as well.”

They now sell hand-dyed wool and a wide variety of different coloured yarns.

“Knitting is a really nice hobby and very relaxing,” she said. They hope to start offering knitting lessons later this month.

“If people don’t know how to read patterns, we can help them with that,” she said.

They also still sell CDs and DVDs, for $5 or $10 each, for those who still have the equipment to play them. They also sell vinyl records and 45s.

“We sell the vinyl records on consignment for around $15 each,” Ms Escolastica said. “We take half and the seller takes half.”

But the cost of new vinyl has gone up significantly since its day. If you want a new copy of Michael Jackson’s Thriller album you will pay $66 at The Music Box.

“And that’s because we got a good deal,” Ms Escolastica said. “Normally, the price would be higher.”

Recently, vinyl records have been making a comeback.

“I really never saw that coming,” Ms Escolastica admitted. “It is popular not just with kids who are curious but also older people who still have record players.”

To play the vinyl, they sell a range of record players, which did really well last Christmas.

Other than lockdown, The Music Box was open all through the pandemic.

“We had kerbside pick up, at one point,” Ms Escolastica said. “I never strung so many guitars in my life. After the chores were done, a lot of people didn’t have anything else to do but pick up their guitar again.”

But she said fewer young people were buying musical instruments to play for music lessons.

“Now, things are picking up again,” she said. “The schools are requesting certain things and we are moving a little bit of volume.”

Ms Escolastica and her younger sister were born in the Azores and arrived in Bermuda when she was just 15.

“I was too old to graduate from high school at that point, but I was allowed to go to St George’s Secondary School for three years to learn English,” she said. “When we came here we could not speak, read or write English at all. I left school when I was 18, in 1980. My sister was young and able to graduate.”

Ms Escolastica helped her mother clean houses for a year, before Mr DeMello offered her a job.

She remembered that when she started at the store in the early 1980s, one wall of the store was vinyl, and another had cassettes, which were just coming into vogue.

Back then, Mr DeMello - one of Bermuda’s top promoters - also brought in major entertainers to perform on island.

“I did not know anything about music when I started,” Ms Escolastica said. “We would listen to FM89, and that was it. My father had a little record player where he played Portuguese music.”

But starting in the store, she made it her business to learn as much as she could about the music scene.

“We had to know what we were trying to sell,” she said.

In the 40 years since then, she has never really looked back.

“This has been my one job,” she said.

But she said the years since Mr DeMello died have been challenging.

“The economy tanked several times, and then there was Covid,” she said. “We continued doing what we were doing, but compact discs stopped selling, and so did the DVDs.

“We had to concentrate on a couple of other things. In our business you have to have lots of different things. One day something will do really good and the next day it won’t do so good.”

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Published February 03, 2023 at 7:47 am (Updated February 03, 2023 at 7:47 am)

The beat goes on at The Music Box

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