Walking on a street in New Delhi, India, Brookline resident Dominic Cucinotti saw an Indian man selling wooden flutes for 25 cents each. That gave him an idea.
On a whim, Cucinotti decided to buy a couple hundred of the flutes to resell for a few bucks each in America. Now, almost 20 years later, Cucinotti owns and operates his own store, Dominic's Music, in Washington Square.
After he bought the wooden flutes, Cucinotti resold them to different music vendors, including Emilio Lyons, the manager of Rayburn Music Company on Huntington Avenue in Boston. Lyons then gave Cucinotti some saxophones to sell on consignment and Cucinotti began selling musical instruments at local flea markets on the weekends. Six years ago, a space opened up in the Cambridge Antique Market and Cucinotti decided to leave his job at a computer company to sell and repair instruments full time.
"Basically I Decided to do it full time because I was sick and tired of working in the corporate world," said the 57-year-old vegetarian who holds weekly meditation sessions with friends in the back room of his shop.
But in June, the owners of the Antique Market announced that the building was being converted to condominiums, leaving Cucinotti to scramble for a new space in a tight seller's market. In August, he found his current small basement shop next to 13 cats. The narrow space is lined with new and used saxophones, flutes, clarinets, and violins.
Because he is a one-man operation who buys new instruments in bulk and has low overhead costs, Cucinotti is able to offer prices so low his customers often admit they expected to pay more. But when Cucinotti makes a deal he puts all his cards on the table for his customers to see. It's a trick of the trade that's rarely dealt in the competitive world, but it's what sets Cucinotti apart from most large instrument dealers in the area.
Cucinotti operates on the principle that if his customers feel they got a good deal and were treated well, they will come back and tell their friends about the place. And it seems Cucinotti's philosophy has paid off. About 70 percent of his customers come back for upgrades or to sell them on consignment. The rest of his customers largely come in after he has been recommended to them, Cucinotti said.
"I can't compare with stores downtown. The only thing I can hope for is word of mouth. My main thing is that I'll beat anyone else's price," Cucinotti said.
When Cambridge musician Heidi Larisch came in last week looking for a small saxophone to take with her on a trip to Bolivia, Cucinotti was able to sell her one for about half the price she'd find it elsewhere. He even showed her his cost, which surprised Larisch.
"It was nice working with Dominic. He's kind of an old-fashioned deal maker," Larisch said. "He was really up front about everything and that's refreshing because some people aren't."
While Cucinotti has sold to many local musicians, some of whom have played with well known bands, he said he also sells to many families who have children just starting to play. Not only are the prices reasonable, but Cucinotti will pay the full value of the instrument on trade in if it is in good condition.
"He's a nice guy who tries hard. He's a very honest and reliable person who stands behind what he says," said Lyons.
Music has been important to Cucinotti since he was a child.
Growing up in Boston, Cucinotti played the saxophone, clarinet, and flute. His siblings, and now his own children, nieces and nephews, also have an interest in music, which allows them to play and sing, especially during the holidays.
"We got together at my brother's house for Thanksgiving and played for five or six hours," Cucinotti said.
Although Cucinotti no longer plays many gigs, his last major concert was for a host of pretty impressive guests, including President Bill Clinton. When the president was in Boston for a fund-raising event a few years ago, Cucinotti played in the 22-piece John Payne Saxophone Choir at the Park Plaza Castle. Security was so tight, the Secret Service did background checks on each musician and they had to leave their instruments at the door to be searched by White House staff.
Now that he spends most of his time buying, selling, trading and repairing instruments, Cucinotti is glad he left his job in the corporate sector to own and operate his own shop. And while he sometimes misses playing gigs, he likes the flexible but more stable hours of running a business in the town he's lived in for 20 years.
"When I came into this business, I decided to give people a really good deal hoping they'd come back. I think it's worked," said Cucinotti.
-By Michele Netto
TAB Staff Writer
The Brookline TAB, December 11, 1997