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Letter to the Editor: It's the end of an era in Decorah

Posted: Mon, Dec 28, 2020 12:19 PM
PHOTO ID: Rusty Kephart

(The following Letter to the Editor has been submitted by Jim Fritz of Decorah):

"I didn't want the passing of an era to go unsung.  West Music (formerly Kepharts Music) is in its final week of existence in Decorah.  While retail establishments come and go, this one feels more significant to me.

In a quick check on the internet, I was able to determine that Decorah has been home to excellent music stores for over 125 years.  B.O. Marsh (Marsh Music House) opened his doors in the late 1880s.  He sold all manner of instruments and print music.  He was also a significant publisher of music, especially music that was played in the traveling circuses of that day.  He had such an impact on that repertoire that a Circus Galop was composed, entitled "The Prince of Decorah" to celebrate and thank Mr. Marsh for his contributions.  Thurst Kjome opened a music store in the early 1900s and for a while there were two music stores in Decorah.  Thurst kept his store open until he retired in 1960 at which time Russ and Lynne Kephart took over the store as Kepharts Music Center.  In 2012, the Iowa Rock & Roll Hall of Fame recognized the impact Kephart's had on Iowa's music scene by naming it as a store to the Hall of Fame.  In 2014 Kepharts Music Center merged with West Music Company based out of Iowa City.  West Music has now determined that they would close their two stores in Decorah and Dubuque.

So, it's been over 125 continuous years of music stores in Decorah.  As a music educator I cannot over emphasize the importance they have played, not only in our schools, but for amateur and professional musicians alike.  Russ and Lynn Kephart were the first people to welcome my wife, Liz, and I when we came to Decorah to teach in the public schools.  Over the years Rusty Kephart, Wendy Kephart, and Jim and Ann Kephart (along with all the great Kepharts/West employees throughout the years) were indispensable to all local musicians.  While a small inventory of basic instrumental/vocal supplies will be present at a new kiosk in the ArtHaus, Decorah will forever be changed.  We'll no longer have our own music store after over 125 years of their presence as an anchor store in our community.

I didn't want this moment to pass without acknowledging the historical nature of this change as well as extending a huge THANKS! to all the owners/employees who have enriched our musical life here in Decorah.  I'm sad to see this happen but grateful for the incredible musical contributions all of these stores have provided to our community."

Ruth Bruce of Decorah sent in this additional tidbit which provides even more insight to the building's past. "The history of Decorah Public Library dates back to 1892 and the Columbian club (study club) at the Unitarian Church. The Columbian Club was responsible for the collection until October 28, 1893 when the Public Library Association was formed. The first library housed 69 books, rent free, in the Marsh Music Store located on Water Street."