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Legendary Dale Music prepares to close its doors

SILVER SPRING, Md. — Montgomery County native Dennis Keuper remembers the days when he used to walk from Montgomery Hills to a little store on Georgia Avenue in Silver Spring for music lessons.

“I took trumpet lessons here in the ’60s,” says Keuper. “I still have my trumpet that I bought here.”

Dale Music store will celebrate its 64th anniversary on June 30. That same day, the family-owned shop will close its doors forever.

“I’m ready to retire,” says store owner Carol Warden. “It’s a lot of responsibility.”

Warden was 21 years old in 1967 when she received word that her mother had been diagnosed with breast cancer. She was asked to return to the U.S. from England, where she’d been studying cello for six months, to help take care of her mother. Shortly after, Warden’s father had a heart attack, and the young cellist was forced to take over her parents’ store in Silver Spring.

Since the shop opened, “the venerable sheet music emporium on Georgia Avenue,” according to The Washington Post, has grown to become a one-stop shop for student and professional musicians alike.

The store offers musical instruments, lessons, books, accessories and one of the largest sheet music collections for orchestra, band, choral and organ in the country.

“Where a mail-order [establishment] might have 200 titles, we have 100,000,” Warden says.

Warden’s mother and father, David and Rhoda Burchuk, opened the shop in 1950. At the time, it was only one of two stores in the area where musicians could track down sheet music and other staples of the craft. Warden estimates that now there are only four or five similar brick-and-mortar stores in the entire country. Most musicians these days turn to the Internet, a shift that continues to baffle Warden.

“Everything is online and mail-order, and you don’t know what you’re getting,” she says.

“I know young people like to shop online. I happen to like to go to the stores and try the shoes on [for example]. I don’t care if they send me 50 pairs. I want to go into a store and see them and try them on.”

Stepping into Dale Music is like walking into a museum. The walls are adorned with an antiquarian instrument collection started by Warden’s father, a music educator, conductor and musicologist. Behind a glass case sits a brief history of the clarinet, featuring instruments that date back to 1805 and once belonged to the famous Astor family.

On the opposite wall, customers can see an Indian sitar, Australian didgeridoo and an African piano displayed along with other treasures from China and Europe.

“We had to come back and look,” says customer Andrea Twomey. “It’s all disappearing, all the old stuff in Silver Spring.”

In fact, the entire block where Dale Music sits will likely be torn down, Warden says.

“The tallest building in Silver Spring is going to be erected right behind us,” she says.

Washington Property Co., which owns other commercial and office spaces in downtown Silver Spring, bought the building, at 8240 Georgia Ave., in November for just $1.7 million, Washington City Paper reports.

Warden says she never really considered turning her brick-and-mortar shop into an online store.

“It seems to me that rather than sell the store to someone who may not run it in the same way we have run our business, that this might be the best way to do it,” she says.

Despite embracing retirement — Warden says she will focus on playing the cello, traveling and taking adult continuation classes — the 69-year-old says she is overwhelmed with the outpouring of support customers have shown since she announced the store’s end. She has received letters, cards and emails from people who took lessons there as kids, and from professional musicians, including J. Reilly Lewis, founding conductor of the Washington Bach Consort and the music director of the Cathedral Choral Society, mourning the end of an era.

“I have great memories of going to Dale for lessons as I took the Y6 D.C. transit line from Greenleaf Street in Wheaton to Silver Spring for $.35. I did this on my own in 1964 at age 9,” reads one such letter.

“It makes me feel good because we have strived all this time to have a wonderful reputation and to do the very best for our customers,” Warden says.

As the clock ticks toward closing, all music is 20 to 50 percent off and instruments are also being discounted. Stay tuned for more updates on closing parties and events.

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