Benito “Benny” Cintioli, of Langhorne, a beloved store owner who helped many in Northeast Philadelphia discover their passion for music, died of congestive heart failure Jan. 5 at 85.
Cintioli was known for his generosity, kindness and humor during his six decades operating his shop, which, for most of its history, was in Oxford Circle. Local musicians flocked to the store for deals and community.
“Benny’s (store) was like you were walking into a friend’s house,” said Mitch Schecter, 67, who plays with The Rip Chords and first visited Cintioli Music in the early 1970s. “He made you feel at home.”
Cintioli was born in Castelfidardo, Italy, and grew up working in his family’s accordion factory. His grandfather, who ran the business, sent Cintioli away to America in 1960 after he was caught stealing money from the safe to sneak to his widow mother, his nephew, Danny Cintioli Jr., said.
A year after immigrating to the U.S., he opened his first shop with his brother, Danny Cintioli Sr., on Rising Sun Avenue in Lawndale.
His store became known for popular instruments, such as guitars, basses and drums, but Cintioli maintained his love for the accordion and possessed a vast collection.
Schecter visited that first store and remembers how Cintioli let teenagers pick up and try out guitars — something many shops didn’t do unless it was clear the kid had money to buy it.
“He made you feel like, yeah, I could own this. I could buy this guitar. I’ll get this someday,” Schecter said. “I think he understood.”
Several years later, Cintioli Music relocated to Oxford Avenue just south of Roosevelt Boulevard. It was there where the shop gained a reputation for its selection and low prices.
It wasn’t rare to see Cintioli cut the price of an instrument drastically for a kid or someone with a good story, friends said. Sometimes, he would even give it away for free.
“He had the biggest heart of anybody that you would ever meet,” said Lou Maresca, leader of Live at the Fillmore, an Allman Brothers tribute band.
In 2014, when Cintioli moved his shop from Oxford Circle to a storefront on Oxford Avenue in Fox Chase, he calculated he was owed $1.6 million from people who borrowed equipment without giving it back or customers who never completed their payment plan, Danny Cintioli Jr. said.
Cintioli was also famous for his humor and his no-filter way of speaking. Several people interviewed separately for this story called him “a character.”
Joe Mullin, a member of local Irish band Celtic Connection, grew up around the corner from the Oxford Circle store on the 1400 block of Rosalie Street and, at 15, purchased his first guitar from Cintioli. He credits early visits to the store for sparking his love for music.
“Before I even knew how to play guitar, I would be in that store just staring at the guitars, watching the guitar players play, checking out guitars,” said Mullin, who now lives in Fox Chase.
Customers remember guitars hanging from the walls and ceilings; equipment everywhere; longtime employees; his many Spinone Italiano dogs, all of which were named Rocky; and, most of all, Cintioli and his German-born wife, Margott, who was also a fixture at the shop.
“Him and his wife always were there,” Danny Cintioli Jr.’s wife, Carissa, said. “He had no children. That was his family unit that he built there — the musicians, his workers.”
Margott and Cintioli were married for 56 years before she died at age 91 on Dec. 20, less than three weeks before her husband’s passing.
She had spent time in a nursing home before her death, and, in recent years, Cintioli moved his store to 200 Central Ave. in Cheltenham. Family members said Cintioli, even in his old age, couldn’t be pried away from his business.
The Cheltenham store has been open, but its future is not yet clear, Carissa Cintioli said.
No funeral services are scheduled for Cintioli. Family members said a gathering may be held in the spring to commemorate his life and legacy. ••
Jack Tomczuk can be reached at email@example.com.