Kalamazoo’s Early Music Stores
“Everything in Music is Here”
If you’re a music buyer in Kalamazoo today, you’re probably familiar with stores like Green Light Music and Satellite Records, or perhaps the Kalamazoo Record & CD Show. If you were buying records in the 1970s—1990s, shops like Flipside, Boogie, Music Express, Bop Stop, For a Mere Song, Recordland, Soul Town, Looney Tunes, Believe in Music, and Bach to Bach were most likely on your list of regular stops. Meyer Music Company, Dodd’s, Treva Reed and others preceded those, but that raises the question… what was Kalamazoo’s first record store? Who was behind the town’s earliest music stores and what were local music fans buying in those days?
Before the advent of recorded sound, music in the home was a do-it-yourself proposition. Pianos, melodeons (a type of 19th-century reed organ), guitars, and violins were popular instruments during Kalamazoo’s early days and a good selection of sheet music was considered essential. In 1838 the Kalamazoo Bookstore offered “a few good flutes, flagelets [sic ] (a woodwind instrument), music boxes and violin strings” (Gazette) but the locals were encouraged to examine a much larger selection of such items at Morse & Brother’s bookstore in Detroit, albeit a rather lengthy journey, especially in those days.
“Kalamazoo is to have a Music Store. Who will not rejoice!”
– Kalamazoo Gazette, 1 December 1854
This all changed in December 1854 when Chandler & Blakeman announced the opening of their Kalamazoo Music Store on the corner of Rose and Main, where they offered a broad selection of musical instruments and “an extensive assortment of Eastern and Western Sheet Music” (Gazette); “Eastern” then referring to Boston or New York, “Western” meaning Chicago. To help promote their new store the two dealers put together an impressive exhibit at the Michigan State Fair in October, which “attracted the attention of hundreds” (Gazette).
J.M. Hubbard and W.H. Woodhams
As the community grew, other music dealers soon followed. Professor James Maurice Hubbard opened his music store on the corner of Main and Burdick in May 1857 with “a fine stock of Musical Merchandise” (Gazette). Two years later William Henry Woodhams settled in Kalamazoo and opened a music store with his brother on North Burdick Street. Hubbard was a music teacher and composer, and Woodhams was a writer. Both are remembered for several musical compositions, including a collaborative piece about the Kalamazoo River called “Bright Kalamazoo.” Hubbard became a professor of instrumental music at Kalamazoo College, while the Woodhams Brothers went on to be among Kalamazoo’s longest running early music sellers.
After the Civil War, Col. Delos Phillips arrived in Kalamazoo and bought into W.P. Blakeman’s “melodeon works” on North Burdick Street, where he began manufacturing the award-winning Star Organ, an immensely popular Victorian-era parlor instrument. In 1872 Phillips opened a retail music outlet near his factory, where he featured instruments of his own manufacture along with “First Class Pianos” by Haines Bros. and Chickering. Phillips later moved his store to Main Street where he offered Weber and Fisher upright pianos and other “musical merchandise,” including popular sheet music and accessories. Delos Phillips remained a prominent music dealer in Kalamazoo until his death in 1887.
Kalamazooans began reading about this thing called the phonograph in March 1878 when the Gazette carried a detailed description of Thomas Edison’s “Most Wonderful Invention of the Age.” In July that year, “The Talking Wonder” made its first appearance in town with a three-day exhibition at the Ladies Library Association, where a 25¢ ticket (roughly $6 today) was required just to “see and examine this wonderful machine” (Telegraph). Students at the Findley School in Oshtemo were given a free demonstration of the newfangled device in February 1879 as part of a “comic entertainment,” but few took the new instrument seriously. Most considered it a toy that “would never amount to anything, anyway” (Gazette). Indeed, it would be another decade or so before the “talking machine” would become a commercial reality and records (as we know them) would be available to the general public.
During the 1890s, phonographs (still considered a curious novelty) were introduced in arcade-like “phonograph parlors” where patrons could listen to individual selections through ear tubes attached to coin operated machines. Kalamazoo’s first “Phonograph Rooms” were opened in 1895 at the northwest corner of West Main and Rose streets in the Chase Block, where locals were given the chance to “investigate phonographs and graphophones for family use” (Gazette). Although the business only lasted a short time, it did help introduce the locals to the idea of recorded music.
Kalamazoo’s First Record Dealers
During the years around the turn of the 20th century, several new music stores appeared along Kalamazoo’s busy commercial corridors. Although phonograph machines and the records that fed them were growing in popularity, sheet music dominated the industry and far outsold phonograph records. In those days, if you heard a song you liked, you might rush down to your local music store, buy a copy of the song sheet, and try to recreate the tune for yourself. In fact, records were initially used as promotional tools to bolster sheet music sales. That, however, would soon change as both furniture and musical instrument stores began to devote valuable floor space to phonographs and phonograph records.
The Reams Bros.
In September 1897 brothers Arthur P. and Sylvo Reams moved their recently opened music store to a new location at 143 South Burdick Street, where they added “a large line of musical instruments and merchandise,” including pianos, organs, sheet music, and phonographs. By 1900 the brothers were advertising a “complete line of records and supplies” (Gazette). The Reams Brothers store was primarily a Victor Records dealer but by 1904, they were selling 9-inch records and “full size Talk-o-phone records” (Gazette) that were playable on any machine for the going price of 70¢ each. Sylvo left the music store that year to devote his time fully to the new Gibson Mandolin-Guitar Company, of which he was both an officer and an investor. His brother Arthur sold his portion of the business in 1909 to pursue other interests.
After starting a business in Ann Arbor, brothers Herbert, Clayton, and Ira Grinnell moved to Ypsilanti in 1882 and began manufacturing pianos, eventually becoming one of the largest music dealers in Michigan. In August 1902 the Grinnell Brothers opened a branch store on the north side of East Main Street (Michigan Avenue) in Kalamazoo, where they featured their own brand of pianos, along with other musical instruments, sheet music, Edison Phonographs, and Victor Talking Machines.
In 1903 Grinnell’s opened a Phonograph Department, “the only one in the city” (Gazette), inside its Kalamazoo store, where they offered “by far the largest line of phonographs in Kalamazoo” (Gazette). “Everything to be had in records is here,” they boasted, “and new ones will be added as fast as they are produced” (Gazette). Soon the store was advertising the “largest stock of Edison and Victor Records in the city” (Gazette).
In 1908 Grinnell’s split the showroom again to create separate rooms for Edison and Victor, promising “the most complete and up-to-date phonograph rooms in this part of the state” (Gazette). The company eventually opened more than 40 such locations as they aspired to be “Michigan’s Leading Music House.” After nearly a century in business the company finally closed in 1981 due to bankruptcy.
Ihling-Cone Furniture Company
Kalamazoo’s Duplex Phonograph Company made a brief yet significant impact on the commercial sound recording industry with the introduction of its famous “Made For You In Kalamazoo” dual-horn mail order phonograph. In December 1906 a public salesroom for Duplex was set up inside the Ihling-Cone Furniture Company on East Main Street in Kalamazoo, perhaps the only location in the country where customers could purchase the otherwise mail order only Duplex machines and records. Interestingly, Ihling-Cone was located right next door to the Grinnell Brothers’ store, which was a prominent Victor dealer. The Victor Company would later play a key role in the demise of Duplex.
In addition to the phonograph machines themselves, the Duplex Phonograph Company issued a significant number of 78 rpm recordings under its “Kalamazoo” label, perhaps as many as 2,000 titles or more. But these records were neither recorded nor manufactured in Kalamazoo. Instead, Duplex contracted with Columbia, Victor, and other major companies to produce records by established artists under its own label, including “records in any language” (Gazette). The Duplex Phonograph Company was ultimately forced out of business in 1909 after being successfully sued by Victor for patent infringement.
Baird’s Music House
In 1901 Kalamazoo violinist and bandleader Banks Baird took over Wallace S. White’s struggling musical instrument shop on West Main Street and soon after began offering “a catalogue of 1400 records” (Gazette), which were modestly priced at $3.00 and $5.00 per dozen. Baird billed his store as “The Home of the Phonograph, Graphaphone [sic ] and Talking Machine” and achieved a certain degree of success until November 1905, when he sold out to fellow musician George B. Newell to focus on his orchestra and stage work.
Edwards & Chamberlin
In 1906 the Edwards & Chamberlin Hardware Company moved from its cramped quarters on North Burdick Street into its new “six story store in the heart of Kalamazoo” (Gazette) at the corner of Main and Portage (today known as the Haymarket Building). With the added space Edwards & Chamberlin could offer much more than just “hardware.” By 1908 they were the exclusive agents for Columbia Phonographs and were actively promoting Columbia’s new “absolutely indestructible” double-sided records, with “a selection on both sides … 2 selections for the price of one plus 5¢” (Gazette). By 1910 they were stocking Columbia’s “Double-Disc Records” in both 10-inch and 12-inch sizes that would “fit any ‘talking machine’” (Gazette), along with the latest Columbia “two minute” cylinder records.
Benjamin’s Temple of Music
Following the success of the Grinnell Brothers and others, R.A. Benjamin left his father’s music store in Danville, Illinois, “one of the largest musical houses in the United States” (Gazette) and in 1904, moved to Kalamazoo where he opened Benjamin’s Temple of Music on South Burdick Street. Benjamin advertised “the largest stock of Victor and Columbia Disc Records and the new high-speed Columbia and Edison Gold Moulded (cylinder) Records shown in the city” (Gazette). His operation lasted about two years.
The Jazz Age
With the popularity of ragtime music during the late 1890s and early jazz in the nineteen teens and twenties, buying the latest phonograph records by popular artists became an obsession. No longer did music lovers have to settle for do-it-yourself re-creations of their favorite tunes when actual recordings made by the original artists could be enjoyed over and over again, right in one’s own home. Record buyers went crazy when new releases by their favorite artists became available, especially during the years around the First World War as “jass” (jazz) music became extraordinarily popular.
Fischer’s Music Shop
By 1907 Fischer’s Exposition Orchestra was one of Michigan’s most popular concert and dance orchestras. Fischer had made six celebrated appearances at the University of Michigan’s “J-Hop” by then and was on the way to a third extended World’s Fair engagement. During a series of special concerts at the Bijou Theatre in Kalamazoo, Fischer’s Orchestra featured a new composition they called “Fun in a Music Store,” evidently a preview of things to come.
In June 1911, Charles Fischer opened the Fischer Music Department on the third floor of the Gilmore Brothers Department Store with “the largest collection of Classical, Operatic, and Popular Music in Kalamazoo” (Gazette). Representatives from The United States Phonograph Company and Victor Talking Machine Company were on hand for the festive store opening, which included a surprise appearance by Fischer’s Kalamazoo Concert Band. More than 400 customers attended the event.
Fischer’s Music Store was often the first in town to stock “the hits” on record and they spared little expense in promoting them. While other stores advertised records in more general, perhaps “mechanical” terms (i.e. “they fit any machine”), Fischer focused on the music itself and recordings by specific artists. When Fischer’s received its initial shipment of “Livery Stable Blues” by the Original Dixieland Jass Band (commonly regarded as the first jazz record ever issued), they immediately took out newspaper ads to spread the news about this hot new release, something that typically had not been done before. When famous recording artists came to Kalamazoo to perform, Fischer’s would often take out ads to let fans know where to buy their records. In many ways, Fischer’s Music Store could be considered Kalamazoo’s first “proper” record store.
“They need music—they want music—and are you one to deny them music?”
—Kalamazoo Gazette, 27 October 1918
In October 1918, Fischer’s Music Shop became Kalamazoo County’s representative in the war effort by helping the Boy Scouts collect more than two thousand phonograph records during “Records-for-Fighters Week.” The donated records were to be sent to the troops overseas “in camp—on board transports—in trenches—in hospitals” (Gazette) as part of a nationwide “Slacker Records Drive” to stimulate morale. According to The National Phonograph Records Recruiting Corps, “slacker records are those that are played very little, either because the family had tired of hearing them or it does not suit their taste” (Gazette). Each record carried a personal message from the donor to the soldier who received it. Hostilities ceased overseas just as the campaign was wrapping up, so the records collected in Kalamazoo were sent to the Camp Custer training facility instead.
The Music Shop, Inc.
Fisher’s Music Shop remained at the forefront of the local music scene until August 1919 when Charlie Fischer sold his stock in the business. The firm was reorganized as a stock company and the store was renamed “The Music Shop, Inc.,” which remained in business under the direction of Harry Beach until the late 1920s.
The Roaring Twenties
The year 1919 would be a significant turning point in the record industry. That year, the Starr Piano Company of Richmond, Indiana—parent company of Gennett Records—joined forces with other phonograph manufacturers (Aeolian-Vocalion, General Phonograph (OKeh), Canadian Compo Company, et al.) and sued the monopolistic Victor Talking Machine Company in a monumental court battle over patent rights. After months of litigation, Starr Piano successfully defeated Victor in February 1921 with Judge Learned Hand’s historic ruling, which rendered several of Victor’s patents invalid and allowed 78 rpm record technology to become public domain. This landmark decision effectively opened the flood gates and paved the way for the phonograph boom of the 1920s.
Record sales grew strongly during the first two decades of the 20th century, from 4 million units per year in 1900 to 100 million per year by 1920. By the mid-1920s, improvements in electrical recording technology led to better-sounding records, which helped fuel public passion for recorded music.
Beginning in 1920, popular dance, blues, and jazz records on iconic labels like Pathé and OKeh became available at the Gilmore Brothers Department Store and at the Blanchard Music Department inside Horace Prentice & Son’s furniture store on South Burdick Street. The Music Shop on South Burdick (formerly Fischer’s) encouraged holiday shoppers in 1921 to “Give Victor Records (with) Over 15,000 To Select From” (Gazette). By 1922, the new Aeolian Vocalion Red Records could be found at Frank Talbot’s in the Burdick Street Arcade and nearby at the B.M. Jones Furniture Company, also on South Burdick. Popular Columbia records like Agnes Lynn’s “Jazz Baby” were available at the B.M. Jones Piano Company on South Burdick Street, where select Victor, Gennett, and Emerson “Double Face” records were just 42¢ each. “Good Jazz Records” (Gazette) and jazz piano rolls could be found at the Cable-Nelson Piano Company on West Main Street, while Brunswick records and phonographs were available at the Home Furnishing Company on North Burdick Street, including records by Wilbur C. Sweatman’s Original Jazz Band and others. All the “Newest Jass Hits” (Gazette) on Columbia Records were just 65¢ each at Hoover-Bond’s home furnishings store on East Main Street. According to the Gazette, “Eight thousand dollars is approximately the sum Kalamazoo people pay for phonograph records each week!”
“It may be a wee bit jazzy, and ‘canned’ music will doubtless be predominant. But, nevertheless, there’ll be music just the same. Thousands of new records will find their way to the homes of Kalamazoo’s talking machine devotees on Christmas morning. And they’ll be for the most part popular dance records with the most fantastic names, played by some of the best dance orchestras in the country.”
– Kalamazoo Gazette, 24 December 1922
In 1925 Victor introduced its new microphone-based electrical recordings (called “Orthophonic”), which had a dramatic effect on sales of phonograph records. Other labels soon followed and by 1927, “electrical process” records had become the standard. Sales in North America that year reached the 140 million mark and by 1929, annual global record sales topped 200 million.
Over the years Kalamazoo has become famous for many things musical; guitars, organs, pianos, and yes, even records, but it’s the community’s rich legacy of entrepreneurship, education, philanthropy, and a deep connection with the music itself that continues to inspire. Indeed, “everything in music is (still) here.”
Like many of our Local History essays, this article is by no means intended to be a comprehensive study and we welcome your input. If you have information to add, corrections, or items to share, please contact the author or the Local History Room.
Written by Keith Howard, Kalamazoo Public Library Staff, January 2020.
Record Store Days : From vinyl to digital and back again
Calamar, Gary. 2009.
Call Number: 381.4578 C141 (CEN)
Labadie’s Souvenir of Picturesque Kalamazoo
Labadie, E.E. 1909.
Call Number: H 977.418 P62L, p.29
Kalamazoo Gazette. 13 April 1839, p.3, col.5.
“See Chandler & Blakeman’s advertisement”
Kalamazoo Gazette. 1 December 1854, p.2, col.3.
“Kalamazoo Music Store”
Kalamazoo Gazette. 19 January 1855, p.3, col.4.
Kalamazoo Gazette. 5 October 1855, p.2, col.3.
“Prof. J.M. Hubbard”
Kalamazoo Gazette. 15 May 1857, p.2, col.4.
Kalamazoo Gazette. 9 April 1858, p.1, col.2.
“Kalamazoo Business Men, Col. Delos Phillips—Star Organ Works”
Kalamazoo Gazette. 7 April 1872, p.4, col.2.
Kalamazoo Gazette. 29 March 1878, p.3, col.1.
“The Talking Wonder—The Phonograph”
Kalamazoo Telegraph. 17 July 1878, p.4, col.3.
“The Talking Machine”
Kalamazoo Telegraph. 20 July 1878, p.4, col.4.
Kalamazoo Gazette. 29 September 1878, p.4, col.5.
Kalamazoo Gazette. 6 February 1879, p.1, col.6.
Kalamazoo Gazette. 25 December 1885, p.9, col.6.
Kalamazoo Gazette. 1 August 1886, p.7, col.3.
Kalamazoo Gazette. 9 February 1895, p.5, col.2.
Kalamazoo Gazette. 4 September 1897, p.5, col.3.
Kalamazoo Gazette. 15 July 1900, p.2, col.5.
“Leading Business and Professional Firms of Kalamazoo 1901”
Kalamazoo Gazette. 6 August 1901, p.3, col.6.
“Buy A Victor Talking Machine”
Kalamazoo Gazette. 30 May 1902, p.8, col.3.
“Phonographs And Where To Buy Them”
Kalamazoo Gazette. 12 March 1903, p.6, col.6.
“The Home of the Phonograph, Graphaphone and Talking Machine”
Kalamazoo Gazette. 13 December 1903, p.11, col.5.
“Baird’s Music House. The Home of the Graphophone”
Kalamazoo Gazette. 22 December 1903, p.2, col.4.
“New Music Store”
Kalamazoo Gazette. 20 October 1904, p.5, col.4.
“Benjamin’s Temple of Music”
Kalamazoo Gazette. 27 October 1904, p.8, col.6.
“The New Store”
Kalamazoo Gazette. 19 November 1904, p.12, col.1.
“The Formal Opening of George B. Newell’s Music Store”
Kalamazoo Gazette. 10 November 1905, p.9, col.5.
“Hear the Duplex Phonograph Made in Kalamazoo”
Kalamazoo Gazette. 13 December 1906, p.4, col.6.
“Special Concerts at B-I-J-O-U This Evening”
Kalamazoo Gazette. 12 May 1907, p.16, col.1.
“Grinnell Bros.’ Music House”
Kalamazoo Gazette. 27 June 1908, p.10, col.4.
“We are exclusive agents for Columbia Phonographs”
Kalamazoo Gazette. 1 November 1908, p.16, col.5.
Kalamazoo Gazette. 22 June 1911, p.2, col.4.
“Very beautiful indeed…”
Kalamazoo Gazette. 27 June 1911, p.5, col.2.
“A brass band gone crazy!”
Kalamazoo Gazette. 20 May 1917, p.3, col.6.
“Help Round Up the Slackers”
Kalamazoo Gazette. 27 October 1918, p.11, col.6.
“Seeking Records To Cheer Yanks”
Kalamazoo Gazette. 28 October 1918, p.4, col.2.
“2,000 Slacker Records Given”
Kalamazoo Gazette. 8 November 1918, p.3, col.3.
“Slacker Records To Go To Custer”
Kalamazoo Gazette. 15 November 1918, p.16, col.3.
“Fischer Music Co. Will Hereafter Be Known as the Music Shop”
Kalamazoo Gazette. 6 August 1919, p.8, col.3.
“Music Instrument Sales In Kalamazoo Break Record”
Kalamazoo Gazette. 24 December 1922, p.20, col.3.
“Kazooans Spend $8,000 Each Week for Phonograph Records”
Kalamazoo Gazette. [n.d.] c.1920s. History Room Subject File: Music Scrapbook 4: 2.
“Grinnell music stores closed by bankruptcy”
Kalamazoo Gazette. 9 April 1981, p.D16, col.1 NEWS
Vinylmint. by A Voice. 7 June 2014
Vinylmint. by A Voice. 8 June 2014
Local History Room Files
History Room Orange Dot File: Music
History Room Subject File: Music Scrapbooks
History Room Subject File: Meyer Music Company