The Way It Was – Grinnell Bros.

Photograph courtesy of the Detroit Historical Society

1960 To generations of Detroiters, the name Grinnell’s meant the sound of music. The retailer, founded in Ann Arbor in 1879, sold instruments, sheet music, records, and stereo equipment. Even if you didn’t have a Grinnell Bros. piano in your home, chances were strong you knew someone who did. Many young students and their teachers also partook in the massive piano recital dubbed the Michigan Music Festival, sponsored by Grinnell’s. The firm’s piano factory was in Holly and its warehouse was in Detroit’s Corktown neighborhood; that building exists today as the Grinnell Place Lofts. The downtown store, shown here aglow at night for Christmas, also sold furniture, lamps, and other household furnishings. Above the logo in the windows are two pianos and a pair of signs declaring “A Merry Musical Christmas.” Satellite stores sprouted up in metro Detroit, other states, and even Ontario. A 1966 ad boasted “36 stores to serve you.” But the downtown flagship, just south of Grand Circus Park on the west side of Woodward and built in 1908 by Albert Kahn, was the jewel in the crown. By the late 1970s, a sour note was sounded when Grinnell’s began to hemorrhage financially. The coda came in 1981, when the downtown location, which still stands, closed its doors. A little-known fact was that the Grinnell brothers — Ira, Herbert, and Clayton — also dabbled in making electric automobiles in the early 20th century, but that venture was short-lived.

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