Skip to main content
DONATE

Kolacny Music prepares for its grand finale

Email share
David Kolacny, co-owner of Kolacny Music, works on a harp for the Colorado Symphony.
Kyle Cooke, Rocky Mountain PBS

DENVER — David Kolacny does not have time to be sad. He is too busy packing.

Kolacny Music, a staple of Denver’s ever-changing South Broadway corridor, is closing its doors for good after 93 years in business. The store is offering major discounts on instruments and accessories as they prepare to close. The doors will be locked September 30.

While David’s lengthy to-do list means he is too busy to feel verklempt, generations of musicians have made the time to reach out to him.

Sitting in the side room of his expansive store in the shadow of a harp he is repairing for the Colorado Symphony, David, 68, read an email he recently received from a former customer.

Writing about a Spanish guitar purchased form Kolacny Music in 1963, the customer wrote, “it has been to California, Washington state, Iran, Scotland, all over England and currently lives with me in France. I play it every day and treasure every scar and mark it has acquired over 50 years. I’m so sorry to hear you are closing down. My mom passed away a long time ago, but we both thank you so much. South Denver will never be the same.”

“And I’m getting tons of this. People just show up,” David said. “They bring their parents in.”

Asked if that outpouring of support eased the pain of closing his doors, David said that it has always been this way. Many people, including local legends like Charlie Burrell, treated the store like a hangout over the years. David is accustomed to people coming by just to say hello, if not to shop.

“It’s how I grew up, from the time I was a kid,” he said. “You assumed everyone’s business was like that.”

David’s grandfather, William J. Kolacny, opened the store in 1930. Kolacny Music’s original location was in the Barth Building in downtown Denver. The family moved the business to Englewood — the Barth Building was demolished years later — before eventually settling on the corner of South Broadway and East Jewell Avenue.

The store was passed down to David’s father, who then passed it down to David, who now co-owns the business with his wife and sister. Kolacny Music became the go-to place in Denver for local school music programs to rent and repair instruments.

“Kolacny closing is just absolutely gut-wrenching,” said Keith Oxman, a saxophonist and bandleader who also works as a band teacher at Denver’s East High School. “When I heard about it, part of me just died. I’ve been going into that store [since] the 1960s.”

Despite the business’ longevity — they survived the Great Depression, World War II, and nearly a century’s worth of other financial and global crises — the margins at Kolacny Music were always pretty thin.

“We never made a lot of money. My grandfather never had his house paid off; he was always borrowing money to put back in the business,” David said. “If we made it through the month and had all the bills paid, we were pretty happy.

Eli Acosta specializes in string repair at Kolacny Music. (Photo: Kyle Cooke, Rocky Mountain PBS)

David explained that over time, participation in band and orchestra programs at local schools declined, meaning Kolacny’s clientele base did, too. The transition to online shopping was also bad for business. “People don’t come to a music store, necessarily, for every little thing anymore,” he said. “And the schools that have good programs are further out.”

“When we started, you could draw a circle around the store and that’s where all our customers were — the Denver Public Schools, the Englewood Public Schools,” David said. “But now you have to go look for the particular building in the particular district that’s got an administration that wants music and that hires a good teacher. So it’s spread out further and further. There’s not that concentration of every school in the district [having] a great band.”

Oxman said that while enrollment is relatively steady in the East High School band program, “the instrumentation has gotten even worse than normal.”

“I don’t know what the future is going to bring as far as all of that goes. It’s not the heyday that it was in the 70s,” he said. “I have a concert band at the end of the school day. I don’t have any trumpet players in there. That’s never happened.”

Edwina Lucero is the music instructional and curriculum specialist with Denver Public Schools. “The emphasis on large ensembles isn’t entirely relevant to students anymore,” she said, noting that the pandemic also interrupted the musical development for many students. “In the district, we’re trying really hard to reimagine what our music education looks like.”

Combined with changing shopping habits and the evolution — and in some cases, devolution — of local music programs, the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated Kolacny’s timeline.

“We got into a big hole with the COVID thing,” David said. “We took a pretty good-sized loan with the SBA and our bookkeeper was telling us, ‘you’re never going to make enough money to pay this loan off and it's secured by your house.’”

David and the other owners tried to sell the business, but as David put it, “nobody in the music business has the money to buy another music business.” So when a company called Alchemy offered a fair price to buy the building and turn it into an event space, the Kolacny family accepted.

The sale and impending closure has been surprisingly hard on David’s mother, who is 97. “She just couldn’t imagine,” David said. “She worked here too, for a while.”

David is not bitter or dejected about the closure. For about 40 years, he has spent six days a week at the store. He has hardly ever taken a vacation that wasn’t related to work in some way. While he’s looking forward to some much-deserved leisure, he’s not going to stop working just yet. He built up quite the rolodex of harpists who rely on him for repairs and tune-ups, and he’ll continue his services from his home in Englewood.

Lucero said Kolacny’s closure should be a “wake up call” for the music education community in Denver.

“How are we going to maintain building up the future of music-making?” she wondered.

“It would be so nice to live in a place where we have strong music programs and strong music stores,” Oxman concluded. “I don’t know if that’s coming back or not, but God it would be so great if it did.”


Kyle Cooke is the digital media manager at Rocky Mountain PBS. You can reach him at kylecooke@rmpbs.org.

Related Story

Spotlight Newsletter

Community stories from across Colorado and updates on your favorite PBS programs, in your inbox every Tuesday.

Sign up here!