DUBUQUE, Ia. — With nearly 70 years combined experience in the music business, Rondinelli Music/Audio and Uncle Ike’s Music & Sound are surviving — even thriving — in a retail world now largely driven by Internet sales.

Rondinelli’s and Uncle Ike’s are two of the area’s remaining independently owned music stores. The owners of both stores say they’re comfortable with each other’s businesses, and both said they’ve had to adjust to the reality of Internet sales.

Kevin Hedley, owner of Uncle Ike’s, said online resources helped the business weather the economic downturn.

“We’re fortunate. Even as the recession hit we were still in growing stages. We got involved in the Internet sales early on and that certainly helped,” Hedley told the Dubuque Telegraph Herald. “That was certainly a nice turning point for us when we figured out our online sales.”

Hedley’s been in the business for 29 years and, like George Rondinelli, has faced both the opportunities and the difficulties of the Internet. In addition to the Uncle Ike’s website, Hedley uses eBay and formerly used Amazon.

“We don’t deal with Amazon anymore because the commissions were pretty steep,” Hedley said. “You try to watch margins, that makes it very difficult.”

There’s also the challenge of taxes, which both owners said Internet retailers have long tended to skirt.

“Free shipping and no taxes always make it difficult to work with,” Hedley said. “The price points have gotten very aggressive, especially online, and we try to match those price points. It makes you be that much more careful, there’s not much margin for error.”

George Rondinelli was about to discuss the most rewarding parts of owning a music store when a customer walked up to his office.

“Do I owe you something?” the man said, referencing an acoustic equipment repair made by Rondinelli’s first, but now-retired, employee. Though to Dennis Krueger, “retirement” after 33 years at the business still involves coming in once a week.

“He told me to ask you,” the man said of Krueger.

“That’s like asking your parents about sex,” Rondinelli replied. “Ask your mother, ask your father.”

The guys shared a laugh and settled on an understanding.

“Don’t worry about it,” Rondinelli said. “Thanks for even having the class to ask, but no.”

Sometimes, Rondinelli said, to take care of the customer you have to take a hit.

“You ever hear the expression, ‘There but for the grace of God?’ There’s a lot of that that happens here. I think part of that was because we really try to be nice to people and kind to them,” Rondinelli said. “That doesn’t mean I’m perfect, OK? Anyone who tells you they have a perfect business is probably smoking lots of dope.”

A frustration, Rondinelli said, is the presumption on the part of potential customers that a brick-and-mortar store cannot compete with Internet prices.

“What (has changed) over time is that people a lot of times know what the stuff is going to cost them before they come in. There are some people who don’t even check in with the local stores who buy it off the Internet,” Rondinelli said.

“On most everything we end up matching the Internet price. Actually, the way we do it, if you want to know the truth, when the piece comes in we look it up and see what it sells for on the Internet and mark it accordingly that way.”

Both Hedley and Rondinelli would say they offer something the digital stores cannot: A personal touch. In fact, Rondinelli says it’s part of the reason he’s in business. His parents, including 91-year-old mother Rosemary Rondinelli, instilled in him a sense of fairness, he said.

“What it boils down to, a lot of success in a business is you have to be willing to try to provide an honest, decent service,” he said. “That doesn’t mean you’re not going to fall down or make mistakes, but that your intent is to try and treat people well.”