Bananas at Large locates downtown across from mall

[caption id="attachment_24626" align="alignright" width="360" caption="Bananas at Large will occupy this Ross Street site in Santa Rosa."][/caption]

SANTA ROSA – San Rafael-based musical instrument and equipment dealer Bananas at Large Inc. early next month plans to open a store in downtown Santa Rosa, the retailer's first additional location in its nearly four-decade history.

More than a few people have told 41-year-old co-owner and President Alan Rosen a second store is a rash move at a time when some longtime Sonoma County dealers have closed or scaled back in recent months. In fact, Bananas at Large will be occupying a former music store across from the Santa Rosa Plaza regional mall. The 5,000-square-foot vacant space at 515 Ross St. in Brickyard Center once housed Stars Music until it closed in 2005, followed by Music X until it closed in 2008.

"We saw a drop in gross sales like everyone has," Mr. Rosen said. "But we watched expenses and improved our bottom line."

Industry journal The Music Trades this month ranked Bananas at Large No. 102 on its list of the top 200 music retailers nationwide. The company has been able to keep annual sales in the historical several million-dollar range by reaching out to new consumers and shifting emphasis from slower-selling categories in favor of more in-demand items, according to Mr. Rosen.

Sales have slowed on high-end and custom-built instruments, so the selection of top-end guitars has been pared to provide common options when customers come in but also limit inventory costs.

Yet revenue has been growing from guitars, "boutique" guitar effects pedals designed by Mr. Rosen and other suppliers, computer-recording systems, DJ and public-address systems, and keyboards. Demand for digital home pianos has grown with the closing of a number of Bay Area acoustic piano stores, he said.

Long term, the greatest threat to music stores will be interest in musicianship at all, according to Mr. Rosen.

"Competition is not other stores but distractions like the iPod, Internet and PlayStation," he said.

In his role as part of a charitable arm of the National Association of Music Merchants, he recently petitioned the federal government to include music education as key curriculum. Locally, he has put more emphasis on community music programs such as Little Kids Rock to bring in aspiring musicians, a recent revamp of the San Rafael store with brighter decor and less "rock star imagery and swag" and sales force training to avoid an "elite club" atmosphere.

"I've been eyeballing Santa Rosa for some time," he said. "It is a hot area for live music."

Bananas at Large's expansion to Santa Rosa comes as Cotati-based Zone Music & Recording, one of Sonoma County's largest such stores, recently revealed plans to scale back inventory and its physical footprint.

Three years ago Stanroy Music Center, which has been on Fourth Street in downtown Santa Rosa since 1947, relocated from 13,000 square feet with a dozen teaching studios to 4,500 square feet but with the same number of rooms.

"With the economy and Internet sales and the emergence of Guitar Center and things like that we downsized," said co-owner Wayne Anderson.

Bananas at Large's Santa Rosa location will host 12 to 15 music teachers and offer some unique products, such as computer recording systems and specialty microphones, Mr. Rosen said. A grand opening is set for Oct. 1 to 3.

Guitarists Fred Waxler, Glen Quan and Billy Stapleton started Bananas at Large in 1972 in San Francisco as a source for collectible guitars acquired from pawn shops. The store moved to San Rafael in 1974 under the ownership of Mr. Waxler and bandmate J.D. Sharp, who acquired full ownership in 1984. The store expanded to its current San Rafael location in 1989 and expanded to a warehouse across the street in 2000, occupying a total of 14,000 square feet.

Mr. Rosen started at Bananas in 1992 as general manager and part owner with his wife, Meredith. The Rosens purchased full ownership from J.D. and Andrea Sharp in 2007.

For more information, call 415-457-7600 or visit www.bananasmusic.com.