JOHNSTOWN – When Mark Nightingale was 15 years old in 1980, living in Galway, he wanted to own a stringed instrument and he knew there was only one way that was going to happen.
“I desperately wanted an instrument and the only way I was going to get one was if I made it,” he said.
He constructed an Appalachian Mountain dulcimer, a kind of simple stringed instrument. This was Nightingale’s first foray into what would become his lifelong passion – making and repairing wood instruments.
After growing up in Galway, Nightingale moved to Alaska, where he worked for years as a remodeling contractor. It was in 1999 that he attempted his most ambitious instrument building project, constructing a violin.
“I had been a woodworker since my teen years. So it always seemed to me that the ultimate woodworking project would be to build a violin,” he said. “Eventually, I had the time … I had the winter off and I built my first violin. I built several after that.”
Nightingale decided to take his passion for woodworking and turn it into a small business, constructing, repairing and eventually retailing stringed instruments.
After operating his instrument business in Alaska for several years, Nightingale moved back to the local area. In 2011, he reopened his instrument business out of his home on Chesnut Street, calling it Nightingale’s Violin Shop.
He said when he first began operating the business locally, he built his inventory acquiring used instruments, refurbishing them and then selling them, using ads on websites like craigslist.com.
Despite the relatively small local market for stringed instruments, Nightingale said he’s been able to grow the revenues of his business by a factor of 10 since he opened up shop, starting with only $1,000 in sales and now averaging approximately $10,000.
“This year has been a down year for some reason so far, but in each of the first three years there was a very strong, steady growth of the gross receipts,” he said. “A lot of my customers for the first couple of years were coming in from the Capital District, Schenectady, Albany and they were driving here because I had great deals compared to the big stores down there.”
One reason for Nightingale’s growth might be the way he’s leveraged his low overhead into very low price points for his retail violin sales, both his used and new inventory. He said he can typically undersell Capital Region area stringed instrument retailers by as much as 50 to 70 percent.
“My new instruments start at about $140. The highest cost would be about $1,500,” he said.
Nightingale has deals with different major violin manufacturers: Saga Music, which includes Cremona, Cervini and Anton Breton, and NS Design, which makes high-end electric instruments.
“This all just kind of happened. I had a background in it and I realized there was no one else around here trying to do this, so I’ve been trying to develop it,” he said.
Nightingale said he hopes to continue to expand his stringed instrument business, eventually using it as a means of retiring from his home remodeling business.
“I’m hoping that I can develop this in the next five to 10 years that I can use this as a retirement supplement, because I don’t have a pension or anything,” he said.
More information about Nightingale’s business is available on his website, nightingalesviolinshop.yolasite.com