Legacy — we hear it often used to acknowledge a high achievement or the long-lasting impact of a life. And when a family business can begin to see their 100th anniversary coming on the horizon … there are many stories to share.
The twists and turns, nooks and crannies that make up the music store at the corner of Jewell and South Broadway in Denver began in 1930 when William J. Kolacny opened a musical instrument repair shop.
Now, David Kolacny runs the business his grandfather founded with his wife as well as with his sister Donna.
“So this building was basically a bunch of little storefronts that we kind of joined together, like a group of mushrooms.” Kolacny said.
Kolacny Music Company has become a community hub for music students and professional musicians alike.
The core business includes selling, renting, and repairing band and orchestra instruments, and working closely with school music programs to support young musicians. Kolacny added his harp shop in 1980, which he says is the only harp shop between Chicago and Salt Lake. He also says he is the only harp technician between Kansas City and Salt Lake City.
Kolacny said the business philosophy his grandfather handed down to his father — and who passed it on to him — is best illustrated with a story about one of the hundreds of pictures in the store.
“And this sums it up pretty well. So this was a picture I've always enjoyed: the concert violinist. But the interesting part for me was on the back was a repair ticket in 1997 for a full-sized violin repair, which was paid by trading work for pictures,” Kolacny said. “So apparently it was this picture of this guy and this poster that he traded for the repair work and that's how we got to where we are today.”
Kolacny spent a recent day talking to CPR News between serving customers and taking stock of just what’s in the shop. The shop has become a gathering place for people to come play, buy or try instruments.
“We're rich in friends. But this is all a mess in here at the moment 'cause I'm, you know, obviously, we're tearing everything up and getting everything out and, and doing what we do.”
The reason they are tearing it all up in the shop ... the family has made the difficult decision to close the store. Kolacny said for years their bookkeeper said the music store was “a crummy business model.”
And then COVID came.
As school music programs changed or disappeared, so did the shop’s business model, which relies on renting instruments. To try to save the business, Kolacny said they took a big loan secured by the value of their houses.
“And, our bookkeeper started looking at it and said, ‘You know, you're never gonna make enough money to pay this loan back. It's just never gonna happen.’” Kolacny said. “So it came down to a decision, ‘Am I going to do this and do it in an orderly fashion, or am I gonna let a bank do it, um, and lose everything and have the bank tear it apart?’”
He chose the former and sold the property to people who own neighboring properties, But Kolacny isn’t bitter.
“It's easy to paint developers as villains, but they've been very, as good as they could possibly be with us,” Kolacny said. “I mean, they've arranged to give us enough money at closing to pay off the bills we had, the loans we had and the stuff. And, they'll give us as much time to move out as we need. Except once we close the loan August 15, we have to start paying them rent. And we're gonna have a diminishing income …. So it's in our benefit to get out as quick as we can.”
When the Kolacnys informed the staff as a group that they will close, the reaction was sadness and disbelief.
Like most of the staff, Naftari Burns is a musician outside of her role at the store. The news struck her hard.
“These kinds of mom-and-pop shops are being taken over by ‘Press one when you want this department, press two, when you want this department,’ and you scream with frustration because you want someone to talk to, someone to help you walk you through something,” Burns said. “And that's what we do here. We're not here for the money. We're music peddlers. This is the best kind of drug, the healthiest drug you can be on is music. “
Matt Curtis said he can’t recall if he joined the Kolacny staff in 1996 or 97.
“I'm not happy about it,” Curtis said of the closing, “but, it's very hard to run this kind of business in today's world.”
“Both were associated with this store throughout the years. And I ended up here and I worked in the sales counter for about a year, a year and a half,” Benjamin said while breaking from working on a violin bow. “And I was always interested in what they were always doing in the shop. And Richard Kolacny, who's the father, was working back here, and I kind of peeked over and kind of elbowed my way in. And, then we kind of took a little liking to each other and, he trained me back here to do this.”
Terry Sines said he has worked at Kolacny Music for 30 years. He said news that the store would be closing now was a shock.
“I was kind of planning on retiring probably next year, but, this sort of came up and I think it's probably time for, you know, I'll probably just retire now …. It was pretty shocking though.”
Though Eli Acosta has only been with Kolacny Music for eight years, he felt the loss as deeply as the others.
“It was really sad. All the coworkers were together. Tears were shed,” Acosta said. “It was hard to think about a place like this closing, you know, where, everyone kind of had a hundred years in mind. It's a big thing lost, you know.”
Acosta said the store helped the city’s musicians, no matter their background.
”It's a pillar that's gonna be lost in the city.”
Ella Logan, 16, is one of Kolacny’s newer customers, but it’s all in the family for her too. She learned about the store closing from the sign on the door
“I just came to pick up my Suzuki book actually. And I saw the thing on the side. I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, dad, this is so sad.’ So yeah, sad day. And I texted my mom and she's probably gonna respond and be like, ‘Cry face emoji’ 'cause she's known this place since she was 14. It's been her home.’
Kolacny says this family business built a legacy with a lot of other families. “We've got families where we've had three people, three generations in a family, do business with us. And so I think it's stronger than I thought it was. But right now it's just kind of, ‘I'm sorry,’ you know? ‘Don't cry,’ you know?” Kolacny said
“And whatcha are you gonna do? So, lots of hugs, lots of things, but yeah. Rich in friends.”
David Kolacny plans to keep working, doing harp repair from a shop in his home. Kolacny Music is planning to close its doors for good on September 30th.
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