What do country singer Tammy Wynette, comedian Dana Carvey, and singer/songwriter Christopher Cross all have in common? They’ve been customers at Welhaven Music, Rochester’s oldest locally-owned music store.
You may have noticed the iconic, orange-splashed Welhaven Music sign—its large treble clef hangs over North Broadway. You’ve had plenty of time to spot it because it’s been there for the last 50 years.
Walking into Welhaven Music, customers are frequently greeted by John Welhaven’s smile. He or his brothers, Jim and Tom, are likely behind a glass display case covered in Roland and Peavey stickers. They preside over a shop full of pink ukuleles, golden trumpets, sparkling drum sets, PA systems on consignment, and even clarinet cases in Viking purple and gold.
John and his brother Jim co-own the store that was first opened by their parents Earl and Peg Welhaven 62 years ago in 1954. Their younger brother Tom jokes, “I’m the new guy here,” even though he’s been a part of the family business for 33 years.
When John’s father came home with the idea to open the store, he only had $30 in his bank account, but in the decades since, his idea has grown. John was two when the store opened, so he’s been involved in the family business most of his life. “I remember sweeping the floors when I was a kid,” he says.
Initially located at 301 1st Ave. SW, which is now the site of the Half Barrel Bar and Kitchen, Welhaven Music moved to 228 South Broadway in 1958 and finally came to rest in its current location at 15 North Broadway in 1966.
The store is full of history, including an original picture of the first Rochester Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra dating to the 1920s. The store’s mementos also include 45 rpm records cut on the private Welhaven label in the 1960s for a local TV show modeled on American Bandstand.
Today, the store offers instrument repair, beginner instrument rental, music accessories, and instruction books. They specialize in band instruments, but also offers guitars, amps, and sound equipment.
Welhaven is a networking hub for area musicians. One recent Friday, both Eric Amundrud, drummer for the country band JT and the Gunslingers, and Ryan Utterback, owner of Pure Rock Studios, stopped in. “No one ever needs to come into our music store; they come in because they want to,” says John.
One recent transplant to Rochester, Ahmad Nouralla, bought a music stand at the store. After setting down a guitar, Nouralla explained his history as a classical and Spanish guitarist. “I always like music stores,” says Nouralla, “but they’re a dying breed now.”
Rich Batchelor, Welhaven’s Road Representative for area schools, says, “Once you’ve worked for a family-owned business, you’d never want to work for a corporate business…Family owned businesses care more for their customers.”
Earl Welhaven, founder of Welhaven Music, had a big effect on Rochester’s musicality. In addition to opening Welhaven Music, he began the band program at Lourdes High School. He served as the band director there from 1946-1957. He was also a president of Rochester’s local musicians union. Before that, he directed the first all women’s army band at Fort Des Moines during World War II. He was trained in instrument repair at the Conn Repair School in Elkhart, IN.