Customers of J.J.H. McLean and Company, a landmark in Winnipeg's music community, are owed thousands of dollars following the piano store's closure.

J.J.H. McLean closed its doors last summer, after more than 130 years in business.

CBC News has found at least a dozen people or organizations who were owed money, most of whom had pianos on consignment at the store for resale.

Theresa Wayne said she inherited from her late aunt a Steinway grand piano worth an estimated $30,000.

Wayne said she needed money to go back to school, so she took the piano to J.J.H. McLean to be sold on consignment.

"I knew J.J.H. McLean was a very reputable company," Wayne told CBC News in an interview, noting that the piano was originally purchased at the same store.

"So if I gave it to them, they would find a very good owner for it," she said.

The store owner, Ian Fennell, sold the piano. Wayne said she was to receive 70 per cent of the selling price.

'I feel let down'

Wayne said she did receive one payment of $3,000 but was still owed another $14,000 when Fennell closed down the store.

That was last August, and Wayne said she has yet to see another dime.

"I feel let down because he told me there would be no problem," she said.


Theresa Wayne says she worries about how she will pay her bills without the money she had been counting on from the piano she had taken to J.J.H. McLean to be sold on consignment. (CBC)

Wayne said she now loses sleep at night, worrying how she will pay her bills without the money she had been counting on from the piano sale.

"I've had to borrow and get support from other people to finish school, and take out student loans," she said, adding that she lost her inheritance money in the ordeal.

Reached by telephone, Fennell told CBC News he is trying to deal with each case individually, but he would not say how many people are still owed money.

Fennell also declined to say whether everyone will be paid, or how much each one will be paid.

"I've been dealing with a number of individuals privately and that will continue on for many months to come," he said.

"I have had to have a lawyer involved at different points, but most of these individuals are being taken care of one at a time."

Claims court records

Court records show one person who filed a lawsuit in small claims court has recently received partial payment.

But Wayne said she has tried to contact Fennell repeatedly and received no response.

Other clients, like Barb Custance, say they have been given excuses on numerous occasions for why they have not received their payments.

Custance said she bought a new piano from J.J.H. McLean and put her old one on consignment there in the fall of 2010 at its 957 Portage Avenue store.

"It wasn't until close to the fall [of 2011] when we still hadn't heard anything, and we're driving down Portage Avenue one day and J.J.H. McLean was closed!" she said.

"We go to the door, there's not a thing in there. Just a message to call their telephone number, which is already disconnected," Custance added.

"I was in shock. I was like, 'What did they do with all these pianos?'…. Either he needs to give us our money or the piano back."

Custance said she is owed about $2,000 from the store.

In another case, a customer filed a lawsuit in court, claiming that a brand new baby grand piano was purchased and never received.

Only part of the money was recovered in that case, and the claimants say they are still owed $6,000.

School division claims $10K

The Winnipeg School Division is also claiming about $10,000.

Its statement of claim says a payment for the purchase of pianos was supposed to be made to the manufacturer, but instead was mistakenly paid to J.J.H. McLean.

The store paid back $1,000, the claim says, but the school division was unable to get the rest of the money back from J.J.H. McLean.

"We just couldn't support the business model anymore the way it was working," Fennell said.

"J.J.H. McLean is an old name, but after losing money for many, many years there has to be a decision about winding it down."

Fennell said he has not filed a bankruptcy claim, on the advice of a lawyer.

After the store closed, Fennell went to work for Crown Acura auto dealership. But a store manager, Peter Von Stackelburg, told CBC News that Fennell no longer works there.

Some of the piano store's clients say that while Fennell was still working at the car dealership, they went there to talk to him about their claims.

When asked how he decides in what order people will get paid, Fennell said, "Those are things that were worked out as we were winding it down with the lawyer and with our accountants and all those things.

"There were certainly some things that needed to be taken care of as priority," he said.

"That's just the way it came, then as the individuals have presented it, then we've been trying to address them as they've come along and continue to do that."