Edmonton

Swan song for Lillo's Music, one of Edmonton's oldest independent music stores

Lillo’s Music, an institution on Whyte Avenue for Edmonton music lovers, is set to close its store this year,

Mom-and-pop shop prepares to shut its doors after a half-century in business

After 56 years in business Lillo's Music is set to close by the end of the year. (Stephen Cook/CBC)

Lillo's Music, an institution on Whyte Avenue for Edmonton music lovers, is set to close its doors by the end of the year.

The business, which sells sheet music and instruments, has built up a loyal customer base since it opened in 1963. 

"A lot of people like mom-and-pop stores," co-owner Doreen Lillo told CBC's Radio Active.

Customers have come in bemoaning the loss since their clearance sale began this summer, she said. 

"They tell us, 'Don't close, don't close!'" 

The store has earned some celebrity fans. 

Aerosmith lead guitarist Joe Perry started visiting the store when he discovered that the owners had a collection of rare guitars. 

Lillo said he stops by whenever the band tours to Edmonton or Fort McMurray and always walks away with an expensive vintage guitar. 

Their daughter Corinne Lillo works at the store and still remembers the day Stevie Wonder dropped by back in the '70s to shop for a new synthesizer. 

"He was demoing and trying out this keyboard, which was really great," she said. "All of a sudden people were gathering around." 

The owner of the restaurant next door was not impressed, she said. 

"He heard all this loud music and he came to the front door and said, 'Turn it down!' And here it was: Stevie Wonder."

Corinne Lillo takes CBC on a tour of the store her parents opened in 1963. 1:32

Boogie-woogie beginnings

Lillo's Music first opened shortly after the co-owners married.

Before the couple opened their store, the two worked as piano teachers. Doreen Lillo said they couldn't afford to advertise their business so her husband Vic would visit homes with pianos to show off his skills to prospective customers. 

They focused their lessons on popular music styles that "the kids really enjoyed," like jazz and boogie-woogie. They later decided to expand their repertoire further as The Beatles became popular, she said. 

"Music was really hopping then," Lillo said. 

Lillo said they hired more teachers and eventually her husband began buying instruments for resale. 

"My husband is a really good salesman," she said. 

"I mean, he convinced me to marry him so he must have been." 

At one point, the store had expanded to several locations, in Fort McMurray, Calgary, Whitehorse and Vancouver. The couple sold off those stores over the years but decided to hold on to their first location until now. 

A family affair

Lillo said it's time to retire.

Her husband is 80 years old and has inflammatory arthritis. Lillo said she wants to spend more time at home with him. 

The Lillos four children all grew up working in the store. Many of their grandchildren have worked at the store as well.

Corrine Lillo chats with customers at Lillo's Music. (Stephen Cook/CBC)

But the music isn't over. 

Their daughter Corinne plans to continue to teach music lessons in the building after the business closes. 

They plan to rent out the main floor to another business when the time comes and their daughter will continue to hold her music lessons upstairs.

Still, it will be difficult to say goodbye to all the wonderful people that have come through their doors in the last half-century, Doreen Lillo said. 

"We will miss the store, there's no doubt," she said. 

With files from Emily Rendell-Watson and Stephen Cook