Old-world skills shape Armenian family’s livelihood

The Times Union (Albany, NY)
June 27, 2004 Sunday THREE STAR EDITION

Old-world skills shape Armenian family’s livelihood

For years, customers bought CDs at The Music Shack without knowing
what was happening in the basement.

There, in a woodworking shop that looks like it was transported from
19th-century Istanbul, Shahin Kasparian and his extended Armenian
family use battered hand chisels, planes and saws to shape intricate
woodwork for Ovation guitars.

Their ebony, walnut, teak, rosewood and bird’s-eye maple creations
can be seen in the expensive Ovations played by Larry Coryell, Al
DiMeola and Joan Armatrading.

A fourth-generation cabinetmaker, Kasparian has had a contract with
Ovation for 20 years.

With hand tools and power sanders laid at rest for a morning break,
the family sits around a small table, dipping biscotti into mugs of
American coffee.

“We like it better than Turkish,” they say.

Drinking American coffee is a small stab at payback. Turks massacred
thousands of Armenians in 1915.

“We always had religious differences in Turkey. They’re Muslim and
we’re Christian,” says Kasparian, whose grandfather was killed in the
Armenian genocide.

“The Turks called us infidels,” he says. “We came for freedom. We
like America.”

His talk is punctuated by the metronomic creak of footfalls overhead
on the wooden floorboards of Rocky Roy’s Music Shack, which has moved
to Colonie.

Kasparian, 53, fled Istanbul in 1972 and settled in Columbia County,
where he made furniture. He was 22 years old and hasn’t been back to
Turkey since.

Kasparian later brought over his parents, Nisan and Layla Kasparoglu,
who are in their 70s, and his brother and his wife, Argentine and
Alis Kasparoglu. They work together in the shop. All but Kasparian
live in upstairs apartments. Kasparian, who owns the building, lives
in Glenmont with his wife, Karen, who is the bookkeeper.

In between churning out guitar components and custom furniture,
Kasparian has dabbled in real estate and other businesses. He sold 95
Central Ave. to Equinox. He sold 57-59 Central Ave., which is empty.
He owns 61 Central Ave., which is also vacant after his relatives
tried unsuccessfully to operate a high-end imported rug outlet,
Central Orientals. He rents 83-85 Central Ave. to S&S Used Furniture.

Like the pigeons his wife feeds on The Avenue, he’s found his roost

“Central Avenue is a melting pot,” he says. “It all depends on how
you look at it. Some people don’t like what’s down here. They forget
that this country was formed by immigrants.”