Swing City: Music men mark 50th anniversary in business

January 27, 2014 

Names: Art Risavy Sr. and Art Risavy Jr.

Job: Owners, Swing City Music Co. at 1811 Vandalia St. in Collinsville (345-6700) and 244 S. Buchanan St. in Edwardsville (656-5656)

Outlook: "I ended up ripping two legs off of a chair and I played a gig with two chair legs. I told myself after that, I am going to open my own store." -- Art Risavy Sr.

Meet Art and Art, the father-and-son owners of the Swing City Music Co. Art Risavy Sr. opened the business 50 years ago this year and his son Art Jr. later joined him in the family business. Art Risavy Sr. also has a jewelry store on the premises. Business writer Will Buss recently visited their store in Collinsville and talked to them about their lives in the music business:

Q: How did you get started?

Art Sr.: "I started booking a lot of bands and I had so many jobs. And when the agency first started, I couldn't sign them all. So I started booking people. Then on top of that, I had a couple of incidents that happened to me a long time ago while I was playing down in East St. Louis. I tried to buy a set of drumsticks to play at a job and I didn't have any money. I ended up ripping two legs off of a chair and I played a gig with two chair legs. I told myself after that, I am going to open my own store."

Q: Where were you booking bands?

Art Sr.: "It is Artco Enterprises. I still have the company. It was an agency that booked talent. That was over in the Orchards (Shopping Center in Collinsville) in 1965. I taught and I had the store. I actually wanted to be a music supply house for all of the musicians. In the agency, some of these guys would come in and want to buy an item and they wouldn't have any money. So I started booking them and as they were booked, they started to come in and spend their money. That's how the agency started."

Q: What does the store provide musicians today?

Art Jr.: "Anything that you hear is kind of what we do. We sell sound systems for school gyms, college gyms, football fields and city councils. We do a lot of that. We also sell to funeral homes, restaurants and fitness centers. We've done sound systems for (Southwestern Illinois College) in their gym and at Belleville West. We also have violin rentals and a lot of string rentals. We also do band instrument rentals for the schools."

Q: How did the jewelry store come about?

Art Sr.: "They wanted to know if I had any ideas to put a piece of jewelry in the 40th anniversary Stratocaster. And I said how many are there going to be? They said we will have 100 of them in the state and 50 of them are going to Japan, and we need a piece of jewelry that will go in them in each case. I said what are we going to charge for each of them? They said about $400. I took 150 times $400 and that was $60,000. So I went downtown and bought out a jewelry store in 1985. And I called them up and said I had just come home from Israel, I learned how to buy diamonds, I buy gold in pounds and I'd like to build your parts. The rest is history. After that, I developed parts for the Diamond Jubilee guitar for five years. Every one of the Fenders that have a diamond and a piece of gold in it, I did. That's how I got into jewelry."

Q: What is the level of your jewelry business today?

Art Sr.: "I sell jewelry all of the time and I've got an import company called Cafaye Imports. The jewelry store is called Florian's Fine Jewelry. That is just an off shoot of the main business, but that's how I got into it."

Q: You have mentioned that professional musicians have come through here over the years. Who?

Art Jr.: "Gretchen Wilson bought her first microphone here."

Art Sr.: "There's been other people, like Peter (Yarrow), Paul (Stookey) and Mary (Travers). We had Rod Stewart at (Mississippi River Festival) and a lot of other acts. A lot of them would come into the store."

Art Jr.: "There was Michael McDonald."

Art Sr.: "He was here in '65. He used have a group that played here."

Q: So do you still come in every day?

Art Sr.: "No, I'm not here every day."

Q: Do you plan to work as long as you can?

Art Sr.: "Yes. That's what I'm going to do. I'm going to try."

Q: What separates your music store from others?

Art Jr.: "There's a couple things that kind of separate our store from others. There are a couple of significant lines that we carry, which is Gibson, Fender and Martin guitars. We also have some amplifier lines Mesa Boogie and Orange. So we have some real solid lines and a vast inventory."

Art Sr.: "I think it's service. We service everything we sell. We want it to work. We're there for them."

Q: Have you always been in Collinsville?

Art Jr.: "In Collinsville, we have been at four different locations. We are also in Edwardsville."

Art Sr.: "I think it's a great space and a really great location."

Art Jr.: "Art actually designed the whole building. It was actually a concrete shell. There was nothing in here and there were garage doors all over. So he kind of designed the building from the ground up. And the way we hang the guitars, we tried to upgrade the way we displayed them."

Q: Why?

Art Sr.: "Because in the old store, they would all hang from the neck and they would damage the guitar. Here, you don't do damage to a guitar. Plus we have an acoustic room over here. You have to keep it between 45 and 55 percent relative humidity. It has its own air conditioning and heating system."

Art Jr.: "The more you to keep your wood humidified, the better it's going to be over time."

Q: What did instruments do you play?

Art Sr.: "I played the xylophone and I played the piano. But professionally, I played the drums."

Art Jr.: "In addition to playing and working in the store six days a week, they would also play six days a week. It was a different world back them and they just worked all of the time."

Q: Do you perform?

Art Jr.: "A little bit. I played a little bit of guitar."

Q: What were some of the groups that you were in?

Art Sr.: "A group called The Moods, I had the Art Risavy Duo, the Art Risavy Trio, Quartet, Quintet, it depends what I got called for. If I had a job with a couple of horns, I had a quintet. Whatever I had a call for, I put together."

Q: How long did you do that?

Art Sr.: "I played for 28 years. starting in '65 and sometime by the end of the '80s I got out of it."

Q: Why?

Art Sr.: "I got too busy. I was playing six times a week. In the downturn when all of the hotels quit hiring bands to play six nights a week, they went to one nighters and two nighters and that really was hard on everybody. That's when I got out and concentrated on other things."

Q: Looking ahead, what are you focusing on?

Art Jr.: "Well, really it's the technology. We had to update our web site. We've had a big push in the last three or four years with a new web site and just becoming a lot more active with social media like Twitter. We have a huge Facebook following and our web site has gone online to try to increase our business, not only here in the area but throughout the country. There's not a day that goes by when we're not selling something to somebody in a different country or a different state. Art has just accumulated a vast array of different customers. Even though we're in Collinsville, we're really selling to the metro-east and all of the St. Louis area."

Contact reporter Will Buss at wbuss@bnd.com or 239-2526.

Belleville News-Democrat is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service