By Jack Etkin
David Kolacny has spent his entire working life at Kolacny Music Shop. At 62, he’s often asked when he will retire, a question Kolacny sidesteps with a telling paternal reference.
“I say, ‘Well, I can’t until my dad does, and he’s 88,’” Kolacny said. “And we aren’t going to let him retire either.”
Kolacny music shot one
At the age of 88, Richard Kolacny is still an integral part of the Kolacny Music Shop, lending his expertise to repairing stringed instruments. Photo by Sara Hertwig.
David’s father, Richard, still does string bass repair for about three hours six days a week at Kolacny, a third-generation business started as an instrument repair shop in 1930 by William Kolacny. He was David’s grandfather and Richard’s father.
William is still something of a presence. High on a wall near the front counter is a 3- by 5-foot photograph taken in 1930 of William repairing a saxophone. He worked six days a week until he was 90 and died at the age of 91 in 1993.
“Grandpa’s philosophy always was I’d rather make a friend than a buck,” said Debra Kolacny, who is David’s wife and began working in the business in 1988. There is a fourth family member in the firm; Donna Kolacny, David’s sister, joined it in 1989.
Kolacny rents, sells and repairs string, brass and woodwind instruments for individuals and for school bands and orchestras and sells music and accessories for those instruments. David heads a harp department that was started in the early 1980s and is the only harp repairman between Chicago and Salt Lake.
“The philosophy of the business is we don’t really sell something we can’t fix. So I went off to Chicago and got trained to do the harp repair.” said David, who is president of the International Society of Folk Harpers and Craftsmen.
Kolacny Music has been a fixture at 1900 S. Broadway since 1958, its brick exterior highlighted by a distinctive blue awning and large blue borders around the windows. Even more eye-catching is the harp room, not far from the entrance.
The room contains 32 harps of various sizes, many on consignment, and beckons customers whose reason for coming to Kolacny Music has nothing to do with harps.
“There are so many people in the world that have never seen a harp up close, let alone a room full of them,” Debra said. “It’s amazing how many people come in and go, ‘I didn’t know they made the little ones.’ We have people who come in and just want to sit in there.”
The firm’s annual sales have been steady the past few years, Debra said, and are about $1.2 million to $1.3 million. She said at any given time, Kolacny Music has about 1,500 instruments rented out, including about 200 harps. About half the customers rent to own, a policy that applies to all instruments except harps.
A Kolacny employee makes regular visits to about 40 schools in the metropolitan area and less often to the University of Colorado, delivering repaired instruments, picking up those needing repair and dropping off music or accessories a band or orchestra teacher has ordered. Individuals also bring their instruments to the store for repair.
“The repair is the heart of the business, and it always will be,” Debra said. “You can’t get it on the internet. You can’t get your flute fixed or get your violin bridge replaced on the internet. Everything else you can get on the internet. You can rent an instrument, you can buy music and accessories. But you can’t get a repair on the internet, and a repair done by a knowledgeable excellent repair technician who takes pride in his work. That’s what we have.”
One such individual is Rick Benjamin-Tebelau, a string technician who began working at Kolacny in 2000 in the string repair shop adjacent to the horn repair shop for the brass and woodwind instruments. On a recent day, he was polishing a violin, working carefully but mindful of some hop-to-it advice.
“Richard, Dave’s dad, always says, ‘You can go on and on, but you got to finish at some point,’” Benjamin-Tebelau said.
Twelve of Kolacny’s 14 full-time employees are musicians, and their schedules give them freedom to attend rehearsals and performances and to give lessons.
“We’re not trying to run an empire here,” David said. “I don’t put pressure on my employees to meet quotas. They do what they do, and I know they’re doing their best and we all get along.”
That credo helps explain why nearly all the employees have worked at Kolacny for well over a decade and, like Max Wagner, feel a sense of mission. He’s a professional saxophone player who joined Kolacny in 1993, a woodwinds specialist stationed at the front counter.
“The work that’s done here is so important and so valuable, and it really must be done...,” Wagner said. “You can’t walk into a classroom of eager young people and help them learn to play music if they don’t have functioning instruments. So this music store is an absolute necessity when music stores such as this are suffering a pretty high attrition rate.”