Liane Rockley walked into the recital hall and beckoned toward the empty stage. It was built for young musicians and is outfitted with proper lighting. The whole thing has, as Rockley points out, pretty good acoustics.
“It’s been a real bright spot, to be able to host student events in a very professional manner,” Rockley said, almost longingly. “The kids love getting up and playing the 9-foot (piano).”
This stage and the rest of this massive space is part of the Rockley Music Center in Lakewood. As she spoke about the past and walked through the recital hall, she focused on what comes next.
The Rockleys — yes, that is their real family name — are selling this iconic West Colfax storefront of 64 years as they seek to downsize to smaller digs. Liane Rockley operates the center along with her husband, Tobin.
It’s a place that’s helped sell music gear to generations of students and musicians who sought everything from sheet music to elegant grand pianos, which still dot their 15,000-square-foot warehouse at 8555 W. Colfax. Rockley, who serves as vice president, said it’s been years since they sold things like sheet music or guitars or band instruments like they did back in their golden era. These items the store gradually shed as it faced competition from online retailers.
The business isn’t closing, but it is moving and taking a different approach. It will no longer sell instruments. Instead, it will focus on piano maintenance and moving, as well as string instrument rentals for students.
When he heard about the move, Lakewood High School junior Carl Enger said he was disappointed. He used to take trombone lessons at the center. He still plays the brass instrument in his school’s jazz band and concert band.
“That was a good experience, it was a wholesome environment,” Enger said. “Now I’m involved in all kinds of music-related things. Rockley really started that.”
Liane Rockley is the third generation Rockley to operate the shop, which has sat in its current and most iconic location since 1955. The shop sat at Colfax and Wadsworth Boulevard when it first opened in 1946. Rockley said it moved down the street to its second home before finally ending up in its current location. Rockley said they are the City of Lakewood’s oldest retail business.
That massive warehouse — whose doors will close for good on Dec. 28 — will still be used to house pianos, which she said are being sold at clearance prices, while they wait for the building to be sold. That will allow them to purchase a smaller space.
Rockley said they’re hoping their new, smaller warehouse will be closer to their home in Golden. The downsizing won’t affect staffing, as Rockley said they will still employ roughly seven people.
“There’s a lot of history in this building,” Rockley said.
The center was called Rockley Music and Appliance when it was founded by Mel and Mildred Rockley, Tobin Rockley’s grandparents. Next to the records and band instruments, folks could find appliances like washer and dryer machines. When it moved to its current location, they rented space to a laundromat, a TV repair shop and a square dance shop, before their business grew and they took up more of the space themselves. They sold records for a few years as well, before 8-track tapes forced them to stop selling them.
Sheet music was a big seller until about four years ago, when Rockley said the department was liquidated, along with their guitar shop. She noted how things have changed since internet commerce upended the retail landscape.
“When there was new music out or new product, people depended on their local retailers to be up on all that, and to be carrying the latest, greatest stuff,” Rockley said. “You developed friendships with your community members that last a lifetime. That’s not so true anymore.”
The change will mean more focus on their charitable foundation.
Rockley said the Rockley Family Foundation, through cash and instrument donations, has helped raise more than $30 million in for music education over its 12-year history. Rockley estimated they’ve provided musical resources for hundreds of schools in the metro area. They’ve also supported schools and colleges around the country.
“We didn’t anticipate the foundation growing like this,” Rockley said. “When my husband started it, he was thinking, ‘Oh, it’ll be Colorado schools, universities. … We didn’t anticipate that the music community and schools were such a small, close-knit group.”
McAuliffe Manuel Middle School choir and theater teacher Rachel Davis said in an email to Denverite that the alumnae chapter of her music fraternity had worked with the Rockley family for many years.
“We would hold our annual spring musical in their performance space at the location that is closing,” Davis said in the email. “They have been a wonderful and important part of the community and it’s very sad that they are losing their space on Colfax.”
The foundation has raised money for local schools, art centers and community colleges.
Rockley said they will have a final liquidation sale push next week from Dec. 17 to 21. Up for grabs will be grand pianos, baby grands, digital pianos, violins and other strings instruments.