If there's one word to explain the longevity of Rockley Music Center, it's adaptability.
That's what Liane Rockley believes.
She and her husband, Tobin, are the third generation of Rockleys to operate the music education and instrument service business, which has evolved in many ways over the years.
So it's fitting that when Rockley hit its 70th anniversary in February, there wasn't any celebration because it was in the process of another change.
"At that time, we were doing a transition with our departments and some product liquidation," Liane said. "We've settled into our new approach and wanted to celebrate becoming Lakewood's oldest retail business."
The business celebrated with a slew of sales in September and a 70th anniversary celebration on Sept. 30, during which longtime supporters and community leaders marked seven decades with champagne, dessert and, of course, music.
"Rockley is truly a family business and has stayed that way its whole life," said Bob Autobee, of the cultural resources firm Autobee & Autobee in Lakewood. "What is special about it is how the business has been able to anticipate a lot of different trends. It might do things that seem counterintuitive, but Rockley makes it a success."
And Rockley's commitment to the community has inspired loyalty from Lakewood and customers, said Bill Marino, executive director of the Lakewood-West Colfax Business Improvement District.
"Rockley really embodies the American entrepreneurial spirit," he said. "It's a remarkable story, a remarkable family and a remarkable business."
The original location of Rockley in 1946 was Colfax and Wadsworth, less than a mile from its current location at 8555 W. Colfax Ave. Founders Melvin and Mildred Rockley — Tobin's grandparents — sold washers and dryers in addition to print music, record players, and band and orchestral instruments.
"In the '60s, they got rid of the appliances and embraced the growing record industry," Liane said. "Thanks to performers like Jimi Hendrix, The Beatles and Elvis Presley, they also decided to create a guitar department."
The advent of such new technology as eight-tracks and cassettes in the 1970s and 1980s caused second-generation Bob and Nina Rockley to start carrying print music and lessen recorded audio offerings. The store also started offering instrument instruction courses.
"This year is also my 20th year at Rockley, and we added pianos and technology around that time," Liane said. "In 2015, we liquidated the print music and bulk of guitar department, and now are primarily a service business."
Those services include piano repair, maintenance and moving, instrument repair and an expanded music education center.
Ten years ago, Tobin created the Rockley Family Foundation with a goal to provide music education to as many children as possible.
"The store has always been philanthropic, and so the foundation was a way to expand that," he said. "The original plan was to be a local group, but we expanded nationally pretty quickly."
The foundation provides scholarships and donates instruments to music programs and children in need. It has given nearly $20 million to various programs and schools all over the country. Recently, the organization started a partnership with the school system in Atlanta, in which Rockley provides instruments and music teachers to the school with the lowest test scores. The hope, Tobin said, is the school will see an improvement in its scores as a result of adding music.
"If the program is successful, organizations with more money and reach than us might embrace the approach," he said. "In this way we could have a much bigger reach."
Last March, the business also opened a Recital Hall for school orchestras and rental, often on a donation-only basis.
"You're going to see a lot of changes in the retail world in the next five to 10 years," Liane said. "We're still here and providing what people need. But we're looking to the future."
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