Music store knows learning how to play makes life more fun

Music has always played a major part in the lives of Bobbi and David Dickerson, even before they married three years ago.

David, 68, ran Dickerson’s Piano Service company. Bobbi, 64, is a retired school teacher who has given countless piano lessons.

Together, they run Tri-City Music, a Richland store where musicians can buy or rent pianos, attend recitals or listen to concerts — either in the store or live on Facebook.

The couple bought Tri-City Music in 2019 from Allan Willis, who operated it for years after buying it from founder Fred Von Gogh.

Their musical history

David comes from a long line of piano tuners, beginning in Arkansas.

“Our family has been tuning pianos since 1875,” he said. “That’s six generations.”

The family moved to the Tri-Cities in 1963. David spent half his high school career in Richland, then moved with his family to Walla Walla.

He majored in voice in college, but embarked on a wide-ranging career that included auto body repair and residential real estate.

Both experiences helped prepare him to run Tri-City Music.

“It all helped me in this business,” he said. “As an auto body repairman, I learned about details. In real estate, I learned about communicating with people. All of these things helped me in business.”

He continues to tune pianos, which need the service yearly.

His father, Bill Dickerson, 88, is his assistant, scheduling the tune-ups.

“I do a lot of work at schools, and a lot of churches,” he said.

His wife is another Richland resident and knew Dave through the music community.

He is a widower and she was divorced.

A mutual friend introduced them, leading to a blended family with five sons – three for her and two for him.

Bobbi taught school in New Mexico and then Oregon for 40 years before retiring in 2018. She kept up her piano lessons though.

“I teach one day a week here in the store and three days a week in our home studio,” she said. “I’m a teacher at heart. I love to see a kid progress and have that aha moment, with the realization in their face of ‘Look what I can do!’”

She’s also had parents come to recitals, watch their children and then sign up for lessons for themselves.

“I’ve got three sets of parents-children who are taking lessons now,” Bobbi said. “I’ve also got students in their 70s. I firmly believe in lifelong learning.”

Making music together

Dave’s previous wife died from cancer.

Bobbi and her now ex-husband raised their kids in New Mexico and later on the Oregon Coast.

“A mutual friend of Dave and mine got us together,” she said.

At first, Dave would visit Bobbi in Tillamook, on the Oregon Coast, and the pair bonded over their shared love of music.

“Whether it’s music lessons or piano lessons, I’ve been doing them since I was 7,” Bobbi said. “Music has always been a part of my life. Music has been a part of our lives forever.

“Both Dave and I in our younger years — and in fact, Dave is doing it now — directed church choirs,” Bobbi said.

Both believe in the power of music to boost academic performance and physical health. Both raised their sons with music.

“It’s been proven that kids who take music lessons do better in the classroom in many subjects, including math. It enhances their lives,” Bobbi said.

According to the National Piano Foundation, “middle school and high school students who participated in instrumental music scored significantly higher than their non-band peers in standardized tests.”

The store

The Dickersons carry popular and prestigious piano brands at Tri-City Music, including Samick, Steinway and Yamaha.

Grand pianos, digital, upright, new and used are spread throughout the store. And David says if they don’t have it, they’ll find it.

“We support the music community,” he said. “If we don’t have what they want, we send the customer to a store that does have it. We want piano sales to stay in the Tri-Cities.”

The store soon will debut a new name: Dickerson’s Tri-City Piano.

“That’ll probably happen after the first of the year,” David said.

He and Bobbi want customers to know they own the store, and they also don’t want to confuse customers who come into the store looking for a saxophone or guitar or other instrument that isn’t a piano.

But piano sales seem to be making a comeback nationally, courtesy the pandemic and the shutdowns that ended live concerts.

New piano sales remain far below the national peak of 364,000 sold in 1909, when access to music was far more restricted than it is now, according to a 2020 New York Times story.

But Americans bought about 30,000 new acoustic pianos last year, an unexpected surge reported across multiple brands. The number that topped a million when digital pianos were counted, the report said.

Tri-City Music confirms sales are growing.

“When we started,” Bobbi said, “our monthly goal was four pianos. Then it was eight, then 12.”

On the day of this interview, Black Friday, they sold three pianos at Tri-City Music.

The pandemic also has created business.

“Kids have got to have something to do,” David said. “So maybe they start piano lessons. And I think it’s trending up.”

The Christmas season can get busy, Bobbi said.

“It starts in November, when families get together. We get pretty busy from mid-November through the end of December. Summer isn’t too bad either, because the kids are home for the summer.”

David said pianos are a year-round business.

“What we have found in both tuning and Christmas is that it stays busy,” he said.

The store holds weekly mini-concerts that have fueled interest.

Every Friday at noon, it holds a mini concert that can be viewed on Facebook.

“It’s been one of my desires since we opened the store. I believe people want to play music. And I believe that people want to hear music,” David said.

The mini concerts are scheduled about a month out.

That includes using the recital studio.

“We invite any music or piano teachers to use our recital studio,” added Bobbi.

And the beat goes on

Both Bobbi and David credit their three employees for the store’s success – Lydia Dillsworth, Lisa Ortiz and Ana Newcomer.

“I mean everybody (all local piano teachers) is full,” Bobbi said. “I’ve got 31 students. That’s five hours a day, four days a week. That’s enough for me right there.”

Bobbi said she and David complement each other.

“Both of us are achievers,” she said. “He keeps busy tuning pianos. I stay busy teaching piano lessons. I help him where I can with the business. He runs the business. I pay the bills.”

They have no plans to retire just yet.

Together, with their attitudes, this whole music thing has worked out to be a No. 1 hit.

“I’m serving people when I go out every day,” Dave said. “This is too much fun. Life is more fun when you know how to play.”

Tri-City Music: 1330 Jadwin Ave., Uptown Shopping Center, Richland; 509-713-7288; tri-citymusic.com.

For Dickerson’s Piano Service, call 509-547-5471.

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