Minding the Accordion Store

Forget the recession; running an accordion shop is a challenging business even in the best of times. Last week, the Chicago Tribune had a great profile of the Italo-American Accordion Company in Oak Lawn, Illinois, which has been in business for nearly 95 years. Joe Romagnoli took over the business in 1948 and made a name for himself by selling meticulously hand-crafted instruments. Today, his wife Anne runs the business, but it’s a far cry from the accordion company’s heyday. According to John Castiglione, who runs Castiglione Accordions in Warren, Michigan:

“The market is more scattered than it was in the ’50s, when the accordion was the No. 1 instrument and everyone took lessons and there were schools… People still buy, but for all intents and purposes, you don’t find stores selling just accordions.”

At Italo-American, they’re lucky to sell a handful of instruments a month; most of their business comes through repairs. But Anne, who’s now 83 years old, refuses to retire and makes a spirited accordion sales pitch to anyone who walks through her door.

“If you have an old accordion, put life into it. The accordion is a happy thing. There is no other instrument this self-sufficient. You play guitar, you need people. But you can take an accordion to a picnic. You can’t take a trumpet to a picnic!”


  1. Thanks for the story about Italo American. I personally think the accordion is showing signs of life – not unlike today’s economy. We have reached bottom and some momentum is starting toward recovery. What Roland is doing can make a difference. Also, young people are discovering it as “something old and new” for the sounds they want to record. Stay tuned!!!

  2. Remember that I said I’ve been hearing accordion music everywhere on TV and radio? It’s only gotten more popular. As much as I love that more people are enjoying accordions again, I’m also a little disappointed that the uniqueness of playing the accordion and wearing a fedora (which are also on the rise again) is not so unique anymore. For the most part though, accordions are still an instrument that will get you a few bewildered stares. (When you’re 17 like I am, anyway.) People listen to songs they don’t expect to come from a polka box and more often than not come away with a good impression of what they see to be a stale instrument.

    Anne’s got it right with that “The accordion is a happy thing” quote.

  3. I had known Joe since I was a kid. I spent many a Saturday w/him, because that’s what it took…..You show up at 7:30 for breakfast at diner next door. After that, he’d have to check the Italian sports finals, especially cycling, Joe was a cyclist in Italy. Before I left for the Navy, 1968, I asked Joe if he would personally make me an Italo Polka Box, double master/mussette, handmade. I watched it progress over several weeks, like waiting for my ‘baby’ to take form. I remember the day I received a call from Joe talling me, that I had to come in for a ‘fitting’ !!! I then felt like this was My Italo American Special Polka Box that was made by Joe Romagnoli. ‘She’ has been to the top of a frozen mountain, 2 miles from the Arctic Circle when I was stationed in remote Langanes, Iceland. Then to Spain & finally back home……’she’ is as great as when Joe made her. I always remember him yelling at me, after he repaired, or tuned, & he’d yell at me to “PULL the SOB” SO, I did as told, I use to hope that the reeds would brake, but He knew better. I regret not taking Joe up on his offer to teach me the art of accordion making. I will always remember Joe, & the great memories I have of being with him at his shop.