Willmar's Whitney Music enters new era as retail store closes

·4 min read

Jul. 9—WILLMAR

— For 27 years, Whitney Music in Willmar has helped musicians from across west central Minnesota make beautiful music. A full-service music store, it offered instruments, accessories, repair services and music lessons.

But, like so much else in life, the tune at Whitney Music is having to change. Thankfully, however, the music store will not yet make its final bow.

"Effective July 1, Whitney Music retail store was closed," said Robert Whitney, who, with his wife, Jeanne, has owned the store for nearly three decades.

Earlier this year, the Whitneys had hoped to find a buyer for the store, to keep it open. However, no serious parties stepped forward. It was a difficult decision to make, to close, but the couple is at peace with it.

"We've really enjoyed our 27 years of being Whitney Music. And it has been a wonderful business and we've met a lot of wonderful people and we wanted to continue it in some regards," Robert said. "But, because of our age, we know it is time now."

"It is time to retire," added Jeanne. "It is the right thing to do."

With the store closed, the couple needed to figure out a way to sell all the remaining stock, which numbers approximately 1,900 items including musical instruments, books, accessories and even home decor. They decided to hold an online auction with

Ziemer/Hilbrands Auction

. People will be able to bid on items starting July 11 through 7 p.m. July 25.

"We stated we would have no minimum bids, no 'buy now' prices," Robert said. "We want to move the inventory. People will get really great deals."

There is a whole orchestra, or band, of instruments in the auction — from woodwinds and brass to strings. There are also guitars, pianos and three organs available.

"We want to see the instruments in the hands of people, being played," Jeanne said.

With the retail store closed, Whitney Music will no longer be available for instrument leasing, a program used by many musicians across the years, especially school-age students. All current leases will continue, and customers can keep their instruments and continue to get them serviced.

"We will be honoring those," Robert said.

The store had also offered studio space for music lessons. Robert said those will continue at the store through the summer. However, once fall comes, those lessons might have to move to other locations. Students should speak with their teachers about their plans.

While the retail store might be taking its final curtain call, the Whitney name will continue in Willmar in the guise of the Whitney Music Service Center. The instrument repair shop will remain open, mostly managed by its well-trained staff of repair technicians. Robert said ,while there are many options available to purchase a music instrument including online, finding a repair shop is another thing entirely.

"The service part of our business, there is a big need for that," Robert said.

Whitney Music Service Center will continue to repair all sorts of instruments. The center will also start getting instruments in need of repair from other regional stores and school districts which, in turn, will be helping student musicians from Willmar and other area schools find their instruments for music classes.

"At first I was a little nervous, but now I am looking forward to it," said Matt Reich, Whitney Music Service Center manager. "Things are looking up. We are taking on a new client, workload is climbing."

The service center, which is reached through the back door of the Whitney Music building, will sell some instrument accessories, such as reeds, oil and straps.

It has been a bit of a bittersweet few weeks, as the couple has gotten the store's inventory ready for auction and ended the popular Thursday night music concerts.

"The most difficult thing was stopping the music," Jeanne said. "There was some sadness with that."

But it is not all sad. The Saturday morning and Monday night jam sessions will continue, using space provided in the El Viejon Mariscos Y Tacos restaurant, located next to the music store. Robert plans to continue participating in the Willmar Area Symphonic Orchestra. The couple will also be seen from time to time at the service center, Robert especially, who plans to be in many mornings.

"For as long as I am needed," Robert said.

As the Whitneys begin their first phase of retirement, they have their granddaughter's wedding in Duluth to look forward to. And Robert has a COVID-19 project he is itching to play with.

"Bob has a boat he — during COVID — really worked hard on restoring that," Jeanne said. It is a turquoises and white 1967 Imp. "He is really anxious to get it in the water."

Robert and Jeanne have greatly enjoyed their time running the store, but are also looking forward to the future.

"The community of Willmar has been really supportive, otherwise we wouldn't have been here for 27 years," Robert said. "I'm really proud to be part of the business community here."

"It's been fun," Jeanne said.