Brass Tax: Couple starts campaign to save beloved NYC brass repair shop
The business claims it owed sales taxes from a period of over 10 years and was never told due to a mix up with records.
For Cynthia Keane and Chuck McAlexander the idea of possibly having to close their repair shop is more than just losing a business — it’s losing a dream they have worked on for over three decades.
The husband and wife duo are the owners behind The Brasslab, a brass repair shop located at 221 McKibben St. in Brooklyn, which specializes in custom design and repair of brass musical instruments — along with other metal items.
McAlexander is the mechanic behind the business and has been fixing brass instruments since the 1970s before even making the move from his home state of California to New York City.
“It’s a very old kind of profession, not many people are left doing it,” Keane said. “Those that do are disappearing and few are as good as he is.”
The shop has been at its Brooklyn location for about five years after moving from its first location in Chelsea, which opened in 1981, and has helped customers with a variety of items.
And although positive comments fill the shop’s Yelp and Facebook pages, with customers calling Chuck “an absolute genius” and “master technician,” the business is now facing the possibility of having to close its doors for good.
Keane explained that the issue appeared after she was made aware that the business owed sales taxes from a period of over 10 years and was never told due to a mix up with records.
After being made aware of the situation, the taxes were paid off by Keane however, although the problem wasn’t caused by them, the business is still being told it must finish paying off a number of penalties and interest which piled up through the years.
“I never thought I owed them any money. I was never running and trying to hide,” Keane said. “This has been a nightmare. It’s been a headache. I think we’re going to be around. If not, it’s a tragedy.”
Keane added that although she made sure she paid off the sales taxes the business owed, she has now been told she has until April 15 to pay a minimum of $20,000. She will then be required to pay an extra $20,000 in the next six months.
The plan is to try to pay off all the money they owe to keep the doors of the shop open and then Keane — who is a tax lawyer herself — will move forward with a lawsuit against the state’s Department of Taxation and Finance, its sales tax division and agents who she claims disappeared on her through the years.
“Your business is not just where you work, it’s your heart and your sweat,” she said. “It’s not just a lost dream, it’s a lost quality of life, your identity, and how people know you.”
Along with trying to sell some things to raise money, Keane decided to start a GoFundMe campaign last week in hopes of raising a goal of $50,000 by April 15.
“I was about to throw in the towel and I said what if I try this?” she said. “It isn’t like me, I’m a very private and independent person. It was a last effort.”
In just four days, the campaign has reached a total of $12,090 and continues to grow with supporters posting loving words of support of the campaign page.
One supporter wrote “great products and craftsmanship that should be supported” and another wrote “there are not many NYC brass players who have not benefited from [McAlexander’s] skill and expertise.”
Keane said she is overcome with emotion seeing how much support comes in for the business and her husband’s hard work.
“I’m very, very humbled. I’m overwhelmed by it and so is he,” she said. “They are letting us now that we have value.”
Keane added that she wants customers to know the business will keep providing the great service they have received for years and if all the funds are collected they hope to be able to expand the services they offer.
During the campaign, for those who donate $25 The Brasslab is offering a 10 percent discount for life.
“We knew people like his work and were loyal to him but for them to actually say it, it brings you to tears,” she said.