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A Scruffy Guitar Shop Survives the Chelsea Hotel’s Chic Makeover

The couple, high from their contact with New York and ready to leave, were giddy. Mr. Courtenay wrote their number on a card, which he then handed to them.

“If you get lost, or have any problems taking the subway,” he said, “call us.”

If Chelsea Guitars has accrued cultural significance as an unkempt holdout in the newly pristine hotel, then Mr. Courtenay is its resident bard, eager to pass on the building’s mythology to anyone who enters his store, whether or not they buy a $6,000 1964 Epiphone Riviera or the other worship-worthy rare guitars On the walls. If you get him going, he’ll tell tales about what he says he has seen running the shop for more than three decades.

Joan Baez once stopped in and gave him leftovers of her Chinese takeout. Noel Gallagher asked for a rare Gibson acoustic in the back of the shop when Oasis visited town. He was feeling grumpy that day and told Mr. Gallagher he would fetch him a cup o’ coffee while he went to retrieve it.

During Patti Smith’s brief residence in the hotel in the mid-1990s, her teenageJackson, Jackson’s younger brother, used to play Green Day riffs in the shop. There was also the occasion when Billy Gibbons from ZZ Top stopped by before heading to El Quijote. This led to a confrontation when the restaurant asked him to remove his signature tasseled cap.

“They told him, ‘You’ve got to take off the hat,’” Mr. Courtenay recalled. “Billy said, ‘I don’t take this hat off when I’m sleeping.’”

The guitar busker was also named VladThe Polish Bluesman of Chelsea, who was thought to only know a few chords, sang about his woes at a nearby subway station in an Eastern European accent, and became well-known. Ms. Courtenay also observed the mysterious woman who lived in hotel and was believed to be wealthy. She was seen hailing invisible cabs outside of the building for many years. And there was the shop’s resident cat, a Russian blue named Boris.

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