*The title of this article was changed to reflect the correct name of Frank Hennessy's music business.
COLUMBIA — Frank Hennessy doesn't want to close his store, Hennessy and Sons Music, after 35 years of business. His customers don't want the store to close, either.
But Hennessy — whose passion is the sale, tuning repair and restoration of pianos — said he has no choice, given the store's financial difficulties. The recession “absolutely” has affected his business, Hennessy said, explaining that he doesn't make enough profit from the sale of one piano to buy another. He plans to close the business by June 30.
Hennessy and Sons Music opened in 1975. It has carried mainly grand pianos and guitars—instruments that used to fill the entire store. The floor is emptier now, but is still home to 24 grand pianos. Prices of those pianos range from $1,100 to $174,000. Only a few acoustic guitars remain hanging on the store's walls. The handmade acoustics by Prudencio Saez of Spain stand out.
Hennessy and Sons has maintained a close relationship with the community by not only outfitting many churches and schools with grand pianos but by also offering music lessons. The store has five studios and six teachers: three for piano, two for guitar and one for bass.
“We don’t even take a guess at how many students have been here for lessons,” Hennessy said.
Hennessy is particularly well-known for bringing antique grand pianos back to life. He said it takes about a year to do a complete restoration. He used to work on the piano cabinets but now focuses on interior parts. Once the cabinet is rebuilt elsewhere, he replaces nearly every inner part of the piano.
Hennessy learned piano tuning when he realized during his study at the University of Dayton that he would be unable to teach because of his stutter. He was disappointed, but found success in his new job as a piano technician.
“My job is everything and anything,” Hennessy said.
Before Hennessy displays pianos and guitars on the store floor, he ensures that each one is fully tuned and ready to sound beautiful.
“Mr. Hennessy doesn’t want any instruments out before they sound right,” the store’s guitar repair specialist, Mark Brinkerhoff, said. He has worked with Hennessy since 1979. “It’s wonderful to work for somebody who feels that way.”
The centerpiece at the store now is an 1886 Steinway grand piano, which Hennessy recently finished rebuilding. The perfectly adjusted tone and the rich color of its Brazilian rosewood suggest the $75,000 price tag is still a bargain. The feather-light touch of the keys are a delight to an experienced piano player.
The music store's closure will be a great loss, customers said.
“There are people walking in with tears,” Hennessy said.
Customers no longer will have the opportunity to hear Hennessy demonstrate and compare the tone of the pianos by playing chords on them. He believes chords are the only fair way for someone to truly judge the tone of an instrument.
Shari Hilden of Boonville said she wishes the store wouldn't close. She has been buying piano music at Hennessy and Sons for her daughter since a teacher recommended it. She praised the store for offering help that online businesses can't.
“You can buy stuff online nowadays, but it’s better to come here and get educated help from them,” Hilden said.
Hennessy said the store's closure will have a “huge” impact on the community. Jesse Hall Auditorium, for example, will be unable to continue using the concert grand piano that Hennessy furnishes through Yamaha Corp., which owns it. Yamaha will take it back during the third week of June.
Hennessy also has provided concert grand pianos to events like state music contests, music educators' conventions and jazz concerts. After June 30, however, event organizers will have to find new places from which to rent pianos. They will likely have to rent from Kansas City or St. Louis.
Most music lessons will continue but at different locations. That means teachers and students will have to adjust to different atmospheres.
Monte Moore said he's sad that 11 years of teaching at the store will end.
“It’s been a big influence for me because I learned guitar from Mr. Hennessy’s son,” Moore said, adding that he hopes to find another music store where he can teach guitar.
Hennessy and Sons, is not the first Columbia music store to close. Brook Mays Music Company and Instrumental Influence have closed in recent years.
At 77, Hennessy plans to keep tuning, repairing and rebuilding pianos. The only difference is that he won't be at the store.
“I have no desire to retire,” Hennessy said firmly.