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Monday Morning ‘MUG’ing: Northwest Ontario’s one-stop shop for musicians (7 photos)

This week’s Monday Morning MUGing focuses on Music World Academy Ltd., run by the Riccio family.

THUNDER BAY -- Local musician Cosimo Riccio started teaching accordion, guitar and drums in a little shop on Simpson street in 1976, and it wasn’t long before he started selling instruments too.

Since that time, musical trends have come and gone, but what Riccio started is still going strong. Music World Academy Ltd. now occupies a very large showroom (over 7500 square feet) on Simpson street, and the second generation of Riccios - Cosimo’s sons Enzo and Joe, his daughter Emily and daughter-in-law Pam - own and operate the business together with Cosimo and his wife Angela.

The Riccio children grew up playing various instruments, and the grandchildren - there are six of them - also play various instruments together. “Hopefully one day the grandchildren will start helping here too,” says Cosimo.

The store boasts well over 500 guitars on display, drum sets, wind and brass instruments, digital keyboards, amplifiers, violins (of different sizes), banjos, harmonicas, ukuleles and some instruments you have possibly never heard of. They not only sell instruments, sheet music and technology; they also repair them and host clinics (workshops) featuring famous musicians such as Doyle Dykes and Chris Sutherland. “These events are a lot of work to try to put together, but it’s a plus for our business,” Cosimo explains. “I think that’s why we’re still here.”

“A lot of people who attend these clinics get inspired and it’s all about growing the music community here,” adds Enzo.

Over the course of Cosimo’s career, he has seen a decline in the popularity of accordions, but guitars and pianos are still popular choices for children and adults alike, and there are some new trends - the ukulele, for example, has been a strong seller in recent years, especially after Grace VanderWaal won the TV show America’s Got Talent. Conveniently small, portable, and reasonably priced, (entry-level ones start from $50) ukuleles make good gifts. It’s not only young girls who are picking up the ukulele, says Enzo, there are ukulele clubs at the +55 centres in town. “It’s something that’s nice and easy, and a fun thing to play,” he says.

Keeping up with the times, Music World Academy launched their online store in 2011, reaching customers not only in Thunder Bay but from further afield as well. Cosimo no longer gives lessons, because the retail business has been so robust the past 20 years. Asked if he has any long-term goals, Cosimo jokes, “expand? There’s that empty space where Sears was!”

“Measure twice and cut once,” Cosimo says of business plans. The business is stable and strong enough that expansion, if they wanted to, is a possibility, but they don’t want to rush into things. “We want to keep it alive, and enjoy it - because we do enjoy it.”

“We wouldn’t be doing it if we didn’t enjoy it, if we didn’t have the passion for the music,” adds Enzo.