If there were to be a king of accordions, it would be Benny Cintioli.
The owner of Cintioli’s Music Center in Northeast Philadelphia makes sure his store serves as a bastion of anyone’s musical needs.
“We have everything you can think of that’s a musical instrument,” said employee Andrew Skalski.
Indeed, they have every instrument imaginable – guitars, basses, amplifiers, keyboards, drums, violins and mandolins can all be found at this store, along with pro-audio, disk jockey and recording equipment. They carry products from more than 60 manufacturers, but they pride themselves in their high-end, custom shop guitars.
The store also carries less mainstream instruments. “We’re world famous for accordions,” Skalski said.
Cintioli came to the U.S. from Italy in the 1950s to sell accordions. It was only when the popularity of the accordion started to diminish that he switched to selling guitars. He opened his store in 1960 and has been at this current location since the mid-’80s.
“Music is the most beautiful thing in life,” Cintioli said. “Everybody who likes music will be something in life . . . anyone of major importance has a background in music.”
Cintioli said everybody should give an instrument a try. He related tickling the ivories and plucking the strings to the most basic act of walking. “The brain moves the body and tells it what to do, where to move,” he said. “Music does the same thing, and when you learn how to think it for yourself, it just flows.”
Despite the unpopularity of the accordion and his store’s focus on guitars, Cintioli has made a name for himself in the accordion trade. People come to Cintioli’s Music Center from all over the country to meet him and check out the accordion collection.
“He’s one of the few people who are [accordion] experts, and that’s why they come from everywhere to see him,” Skalski said.
Cintioli’s Music Center is decorated from wall to ceiling with guitars. Their prices range from $100 to $115, but they are never set in stone. “Every day is a sale,” Skalski said. Cintioli’s Music Center discounts more than any other store around.
“We don’t work on commission, so we don’t try to force things down people’s throat to make money,” Skalski said.
The store never advertises and never promotes. So how do people know they exist? By word of mouth, Skalski said.
“Somebody will come in and they’ll tell all their friends about it,” he said. “Benny’s never advertised once.”
Cintioli’s employees have so many compelling stories about their customers that they don’t even know where to begin to describe them. “All of our customers are interesting,” said Skalski, who went on to say that customers like to hide guitars they want so that nobody else can buy them, which he says is odd because of their layaway program. One customer even took a guitar, locked it in its case, hid it under the steps and took the key.
Despite occasional peculiar incidents with customers, most are long-time and loyal regulars. Cintioli’s is also visited by many famous jazz musicians, like Pat Martino and Jimmy Bruno, and also local bands like Silvertide. Cintioli’s often holds birthday parties and holiday parties, and the store is full of photographs of customers and family.
Cintioli’s employees said they think Benny Cintioli is what makes their store different from every other music store.
“He’s a character,” Skalski said. “He has more stories than anyone I know.”
Cintioli encourages anyone with an interest in music to come check out the store and take the time to get to know the people who give it its exceptional character.
Melanie Menkevich can be reached at email@example.com.