Fret No More: Hotel Group Says Chelsea Guitars Can Stay

Chelsea Guitars owner Dan Courtenay will remain behind the counter at his beloved 224 W. 23rd St. store. | Photo by Christian Miles

BY WINNIE McCROY | In what is a victory for both the proprietor of Chelsea Guitars and the neighborhood as a whole, the new owners of the storied Chelsea Hotel have agreed to let Dan Courtenay’s iconic guitar shop remain in the building. Thanks to some forward-thinking businessmen, the shop that has been providing musicians with high-end guitars and equipment for 25 years will continue on as the official music store of a hotel that’s boasted a music store in their lobby since 1908.

“They were very nice when I went and talked to them, even though they were up to their necks trying to get the place back up and running,” Courtenay said. “They told me they realized what a big part of Chelsea and the hotel’s history I was.”

In an earlier story (May 3, 2018’s “Guitar Shop Owner Hopes Egress Won’t End His Era at the Chelsea Hotel”), Chelsea Now reported that Courtenay’s tiny shop, located at 224 W. 23rd St. (btw. Seventh & Eighth Aves.), was slated to be shut down and/or demolished so that an alternate entrance to the Chelsea Hotel could be built. He had until June 30 to vacate the premises. But after the community rose up to support Courtenay — a longtime local small business owner and a neighborhood resident to boot — the owners seemed to reconsider the value-added benefits of hanging on to their exclusive piece of old-time, authentic New York City.

Sustained notes: The sweet sound of music will continue to resonate, with Chelsea Guitars assured a place at the renovated Chelsea Hotel. | Photo by Christian Miles

“Negotiations went to the 11th hour, but the fact is that this [May 3] article, which at first I was loathe to do, ended up changing everything,” Courtenay said, noting that shortly after its publication, he received many calls of concern and support from community groups and politicians, including State Senator Brad Hoylman and Speaker Corey Johnson, who is also the City Council representative for Chelsea.

“I am thrilled that Chelsea Guitars will remain at the Chelsea Hotel for years to come,” Johnson said in a June 19 email to this publication. “Small businesses like Chelsea Guitars are what keep New York City the wonderful and unique place that it is, and I am excited that this legendary small business will continue to be a part of Chelsea’s future.” Johnson also expressed his thanks to the hotel’s management “for reaching a fair agreement with Chelsea Guitars that will keep them in the community for the long term,” and commended Chelsea Now “for its intrepid reporting that draws attention to the local issues that matter so much to our community.”

Chelsea Guitars will lose some of its storage space, but has gained a new lease on life. | Photo by Christian Miles

In addition to meaningful assistance from electeds, Courtenay also expressed gratitude for the groundswell of support from neighbors who stopped by his store, spoke to their elected officials and community boards, and called the hotel owners to let them know how important this issue was to them. It appears that the new owners got the message loud and clear.

“These guys were nice enough to sit down and say, ‘How can we do this?’ ” said Courtenay. “And we will still have to make some changes to my space, which will be tough… but they are really trying to have us stay.”

A representative from the hotel group told Chelsea Now, “We hammered out a deal with the new owners of the hotel to sit down with Dan Courtenay and find a way to make it work. We are really happy to have him stay.”

Construction will have to be done in the back of Chelsea Guitars to install a door, and Courtenay will lose his bathroom and some storage space. Teams have already come by to measure the space, and are seeking an alternative storage space for some of Courtenay’s huge stock of high-end and vintage guitars. There may also be some changes to the facade.

But Courtenay is thrilled that he will get to stick around to see the Chelsea Hotel finally get its long-awaited facelift, and local preservationists are happy that a fresh-faced Chelsea Guitars shop will be part of that renovation.

“I am so glad to hear that the management of the hotel are doing that,” said Bill Borock, co-vice president of Save Chelsea. “With all the small businesses we are losing from Sixth to Ninth Avenues, it is nice to know he’ll still be there. I think the history of the Chelsea Hotel will always endure, but this adds a little plus to the whole story.”

After months of losing sleep worrying about his perilous fate, Courtenay said he is now sleeping well, confident that his business will remain in its longtime home for the next few years. Courtenay noted that he just signed a lease that permits him to stay in the location at the same rent until 2021. He had nothing but good things to say about it.

“The management has been very nice to me with this. I never had a feeling this was personal. I totally understood that it was just business, that they just wanted to have a good place and were thinking about the big picture,” Courtenay said. “But I have loved that building since I was a little boy, I love the people in Chelsea, and I know it’s why I love New York. Just the fact that they stopped their work to do this is wonderful, and hopefully it is all going to work out fine.”

For more information, visit the store at 224 W. 23rd St. (btw. Seventh & Eighth Aves.) — and online, visit chelseaguitars.com.

Photo by Christian Miles

Photo by Christian Miles

Photo by Christian Miles

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