BERLIN - By Debra Thornblad
The recent decision by Jackie Catello to close the music store and sell the business owned by her late husband's family for many years was a bittersweet one. It's the end of an era for the community and yet she smiled as she recalled all the years of memories that she and others will always have.
Catello and Son Music Store will close on November 30. The building has been purchased by Dave and Maureen Patry, owner of Maureen's Boutique and Tanning Salon. Maureen Patry said they are finalizing plans for their new acquisition and will have more information at a later date.
Most younger people in the area will remember Catello as just a music store, but those a little older will recall music was just a sideline, a hobby really, for the original owners. But whatever they sold, the business was always a family one.
Catello and Son was started by Louie and Arline Catello in a small building next to their home on Second Avenue in Berlin. Jackie isn't sure exactly what year it started, but she was dating their son Robert when the business outgrew its first location and they built a new building on Glen Avenue in 1965.
Catello was originally a small engine business that sold and repaired things like lawn mowers, outboard motors, and especially chain saws. Louie Catello had worked in the wood department in the mill and saw an opportunity to carve out a small business for himself. There were a lot of loggers in the woods then and chainsaws were an important tool. Later snowmobiles were added to the inventory. In 1980 the business got a Harley Davidson franchise.
The business grew and at one time employed three to four workers. Jackie's husband, Robert, started as a mechanic.
But music was in the heart of this family and in the back of the store, perhaps just in one corner, musical instruments were always present. Louie Catello loved vintage instruments and appeared in many music magazines in stories regarding them. He played string instruments himself and gave guitar lessons to many, many students over the years.
Robert Catello was well known for his trumpet playing skills, even way back in high school.
In 1968, Jackie married into this music family. Luckily, she said, she had seven years of piano lessons. The two couples, Louie and Arline, and Robert and Jackie formed a band. They were the house band for the Town and Country for many years and played at other events too, such as the Groveton prom, circa 1969-70.
As the years went by music began to take over more and more of the business. Jackie guessed it was at least 20 years ago when the small engine part of the business was liquidated. From then on it was all music, all the time.
Louie died in 1997 and Arline shortly after that. Robert took over the business, which was then all music. Jackie had stopped playing in the band after their son was born in 1974 and she stayed in the background doing the bookkeeping for the business and working at the college in financial aid.
Jackie said the business continued to be pretty successful Internet sales and the decline of the economy started to take its toll.
When Robert died in 2010, Brad Wilson took over the day-to-day running of the business. Wilson had always been someone who liked to come in and help out, Jackie said. After the older Catellos died, Robert had him come in and work part-time. Brad had been working at the mill and when it shut down the first time, he enrolled in a training program that paid for half of a new employee's wages. He worked full-time in the store at that time and thus was fully trained and ready to step in when the mill closed the second time and Robert died.
Robert and Jackie's son has a passion for classical music and is pursuing a career in that in southern New Hampshire. His mother notes there are no opportunities for him up here.
The decision to close the store was an economic one. The past three years have been especially difficult, she said. It's tough to compete with the on-line economy.
"It breaks my heart. I feel terrible about it, but we have to be practical," she said.
But she smiled as she recalled the jam sessions that seemed to be always going on.
"I'd come down to the store many times and walk into the middle of a jam session. Musicians would walk in and they'd just start. The atmosphere was clearly social and welcoming to musicians," she said.
She's not alone in that feeling.
Jeremy Dean, a musician in Lancaster has put together a You Tube video since learning of the store's closing. Among the comments:
• "A Berlin institution."
• "I bought my first instrument there, and a few after that. It's sad to see it go."
• "A lot of memories there, good conversations with Louie, Bobby and Brad. I was always treated like a friend and not just another customer."
• "A company closes its doors and there are so many people who will miss more than just what they sold there."
Wilson said he will continue to fix instruments, but at his home. He'll continue his acoustic duo performances with Bob Pelletier at the nursing homes and his performances at Welch's Restaurant in Gorham on Sunday mornings, and will look for more opportunities to play music.