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The Right Note

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Few spots in America have a musical heritage as grand as 21 Country. The Conn company of Elkhart has manufactured band instruments since 1873...still does. And keeping those instruments in fine playing condition is a time honored profession as well and one that almost guarantees a long and fruitful career.

“Some will come in on an annual basis just to be adjusted,” says Quinlan and Fabish store manager Dan Hough. “Just like having your tires rotated on a car.”

It's the oldest continuously operating retail instrument store in Fort Wayne. Quinlan and Fabish on Wells Street started out in 1933 as Tom Berry music on North Harrison. The store now carries just about any instrument you can think of and all the goodies needed to play and maintain them. But the coolest part of this operation isn't on the sales floor, it's tucked away in back.

On this day Brandon Riggle is making adjustments on a horn. Doug Lamison is adjusting action on a flute and Annalie Orman is working on, well, something while Marissa Mayers applies the final touches. This store repairs thousands of instruments each year, most of them sent in by local schools for summer tune ups preparing for fall semester. Manager Dan Hough has been with the store for years.

“I have now band directors that I see on a weekly basis that were students that I fitted,” says Hough, “and they'll say 'I remember when I tried and picked my trumpet 'cause you were there and had me try instruments'.”

Most of Quinlan and Fabish's business comes from instrument rentals, repairs make up about 25 percent. And perhaps because music soothes the savage breast, working in an instrument store is a delight.

“It's not the typical retail world,” says Hough. “It's rare that we have negative interactions with customers it's always positive. 'You're dealing with families.' Yeh.”

Playing an instrument in school develops character and discipline, some say the soul. Whatever gifts music has to offer, they are all to be found here at this 21 Country staple that offers the gift that gift that keeps on giving. This is Eric Olson reporting.

Eric Olson

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