On January 24, 2018, the Petosa Accordion Company, long based in Seattle's Wallingford neighborhood, opens its new headquarters at 19503 56th Avenue W, Lynnwood, in Snohomish County north of Seattle. Founded in 1922 by Italian native Carlo Petosa (1892-1959), the company called Seattle home for 95 years, 62 of them in the same storefront at 313 NE 45th Street in Wallingford. That location closed on December 29, 2017, in preparation for the move, which followed months of planning. The family-owned company has been operated by four generations of Petosas and is the only American manufacturer of accordions still in business.
"95 Years in Wallingford"
The December 2017 newsletter of Petosa Accordions carried a short announcement:
"After 95 years in Seattle's Wallingford neighborhood, we are very excited to announce our move to a new, larger and much more customer-convenient facility featuring easy access and plentiful parking. From the much-enlarged showroom to the streamlined service department, every inch of our new location is designed to provide the best possible experience for our customers" ("Petosa Accordions Is Expanding!").
Petosa Accordions was started in Seattle in 1922 by Carlo Petosa, later known as Carl, who started playing the accordion as a young boy in Italy. He immigrated to the United States around 1904 and was hired as an accordionist, playing in theaters on both coasts and on the vaudeville circuit. But Petosa wanted more than just to play the accordion; he wanted to build one. He apprenticed for nearly a decade with the Guerrini Accordion Company in San Francisco -- one of the most well-respected accordion manufacturers at the time -- and moved to Seattle in 1922.
Three generations of Petosas followed Carlo into the business: son Joseph G. (1925-2005); grandson Joseph M., also called Joe Jr. (b. 1960), and great-grandson Joseph III, also called Joey. Carlo, eventually working with his son Joe, built the instruments in a small shop located in the basement of the family home at 4010 Linden Avenue (in the Fremont area just west of Wallingford). In 1955, the company moved a short distance east to 313 NE 45th Street in Wallingford, where it remained until December 2017.
Over the decades, Petosa Accordions received several patents for innovative design refinements and became known nationally for its attention to detail, high-quality materials, and customer service. Its clientele has included major recording artists and musical groups representing many genres as well as actors (Drew Carey), artists (local glass sculptor Dale Chihuly), and well-known cartoonist Gary Larson of "The Far Side."
A Seattle Presence
As a mainstay in the Seattle musical scene, Petosa Accordions played an active role in many community events. For years, the company participated in the holiday celebration at downtown department store Frederick & Nelson. In November 1986, The Seattle Times columnist Emmett Watson wrote:
"Tomorrow, at Frederick & Nelson, my old buddy Frank Sugia starts banging away on his accordion...Every Christmas season Joe Petosa, whose music store is out on 45th ..., lends Frank a brand-new accordion, imported from Italy. For the past 15 years, Petosa has sent away for a new accordion -- accordions costing as much as $6,500" ("The Season Opens ...").
After World War II ended but before Elvis made it big, the accordion hit its heyday in America. By the time rock-and-roll became popular, the instrument had fallen out of favor. Before long, most U.S. accordion manufacturers went out of business except Petosa. "We stayed small and retained our high quality" ("100 Years Later ..."). This business strategy paid off. In 1979 Joseph G. Petosa told The Seattle Times "the accordion business is booming. 'It's still a limited market,' Joe said, 'but people who play it are buying better instruments so custom houses like ours are sailing along' (Evans, "Restaurant Shuffle ...").
By the 1990s, an accordion renaissance was underway, and the instrument once deemed square was now hip.
"Enthusiasts young and old are taking the long-maligned instrument out of closets and garages, pumping the bellows and playing everything from sea chanteys, Big Band pop tunes and polkas to French, Balkan, Cajun, zydeco, Irish, Italian, Tex-Mex, nortena, klezmer, jazz, bluegrass, classical, folk and rock" (Marech).
Eventually customer demographics began trending younger as well. In 2014, The Atlantic reported:
"Owner Joseph M. Petosa said the age of customers has also changed, with 60 percent now under the age of 30, whereas 10 years ago it was only 10 percent. And over the last three years, 'we're almost selling more accordions than we're making,' Petosa said. The company has responded to the demand by introducing a second, cheaper line of instruments" (Golden).
Move to Lynnwood
Another change came in 2018.
"After squeezing down to make room for a martial arts shop, and more recently, Comics Dungeon, Petosa Accordions has folded up its Wallingford shop and moved north to Lynnwood. This is the end of an era for the venerable music shop ... They weren't forced out by rising rents or an unfriendly landlord, though. The property, including the corner shop ... is all owned by Joseph Petosa himself" ("Petosa Accordions Folds ...").
Petosa Accordions opened in south Snohomish County at 19503 56th Avenue W, Suite B, Lynnwood, on January 28, 2018. The new Lynnwood headquarters provided more room to showcase the company's products and to sell an assortment of accordion-related items, such as straps and cases. The workshop area was larger and several acoustically isolated demo studios were now part of the set-up.
In addition to the showroom and factory, the Lynnwood store also featured a museum displaying some early accordions built by Carlo Petosa, along with a selection of historic accordions from the past 180 years. Included was an early Paolo Soprani accordion, circa 1865. Paolo Soprani (1844-1918), an Italian native from the Marche region of central Italy, is credited as the father of the modern accordion.
A Who's Who Wall of Photos
A photo gallery lined with signed images of loyal Petosa customers has become a popular attraction in the new store. For those of a certain age, one of the most recognizable faces is Dick Contino (1930-2017). A highly skilled and energetic accordionist with dashing movie-star looks, Contino was making $4,000 a week in the late 1940s, one of the highest-paid musicians in the country.
Contino played the accordion well into his 80s, and his instrument of choice was a Petosa. "His arms were still muscular ... and he still easily strapped on his 27-pound Petosa AM 1100 accordion to vigorously play a set list that included 'Contino Boogie'" (Sandomir). A testimonial from Contino on the company website says simply: "Thank you for building the best accordion I have ever played!" ("Reviews").
Former Nirvana band member and accordionist Krist Novoselic (b. 1965) has stopped by the Petosa showroom occasionally. In 2014, Novoselic was the first accordionist inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio. On September 1, 2018, he opened a concert for Nirvana bandmate David Grohl of The Foo Fighters, and brought down the house, playing his Petosa accordion.
Not all customers are musicians, however. Back in 1993, The Seattle Times wrote of the Wallingford store:
"On the wall at Petosa's Accordions is the framed and signed original of Gary Larson's 1986 cartoon where the guy going to heaven is handed his harp and the guy going to hell is handed his accordion. 'With apologies,' guitar-playing Larson, a longtime Petosa customer, wrote on the bottom" (Stripling).