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About Utah: A Salt Lake hit for 152 years ... and counting

Published: Sunday, Aug. 31 2014 10:00 p.m. MDT

Updated: Tuesday, Sept. 2 2014 7:09 a.m. MDT

For decades a fixture in downtown Salt Lake City, Daynes Music, Utah's oldest family run business, is now located on State Street in Midvale.

Lee Benson

MIDVALE — So this is where it’s come to.

Daynes Music, a company that has been around since 1862 — the oldest family-run business in the state and 76th oldest in the entire United States of America — is perched on a half-acre of asphalt on south State Street in that part of the Salt Lake Valley where Murray melds into Midvale. On one side is a sushi restaurant, while on the other is a place that sells hot tubs.

My, how times have changed.

And my, how they haven’t.

Gerald R. “Skip” Daynes is the perfect spokesman for Daynes Music. He, too, is older than he looks. At 75, he still has all his hair, sports a healthy tan, has about as much body fat as a bike racer and appears rather like an aging surfer boy than a man hoisting a 152-year-old business on his shoulders.

It’s not easy, and he’ll be the first to tell you. Try keeping anything going for a century and a half. Then add in the fact that it’s pianos you’re selling. For one thing, pianos don’t wear out. Instruments that were made a hundred and more years ago are still sitting in the living room, going strong. For another thing, there’s a lot more competition than there was in 1862 — so many more inventions vying for the consumer’s musically oriented dollars. IPads, for one example, and electric guitars, for another.

But there’s plenty to say for momentum — something Skip thanks heaven for every day. Despite all the reasons that maybe it shouldn’t still be in business, Daynes Music has behind it the inertia that was set into motion 152 summers ago when an Englishman named John Daynes and his son, Joseph, lugged an organ onto a handcart in Iowa that they pointed westward, grabbed ahold of and set out for Salt Lake City and the Mormon Zion.

A thousand miles later, they lifted the organ out and announced that it, along with various other musical instruments they’d brought with them, were for sale.

“We’ve been in business ever since,” Skip proudly states.

At his store in Midvale, the Deseret News sat down with Skip Daynes, the fourth-generation owner of Daynes Music, for a conversation about longevity, legacy and the fine art of selling pianos.

DN: Congratulations on Daynes Music entering its 153rd straight year. According to Family Business Magazine, yours is the 76th-oldest family-owned business in the country, and America’s second-oldest music store, period, behind only Steinert’s of Boston, which opened just two years earlier, in 1860. To what do you ascribe your ability to endure, endure, endure?

SD: I think there are three main reasons why we’re still here. One is because of all the wonderful people we’ve had around us through the years, starting with the wonderful people great-grandfather gathered around him when he first came to the valley. You cannot do it without really good help. Two is our willingness to work hard and to do what it takes when times change, and three is having a quality product. You can’t stay in business unless you have a product that people want.

DN: For you, that means Steinway pianos?

SD: Steinway has indeed been our mainstay through the years. We started with them in 1873, just 20 years after they opened for business. We’re the oldest Steinway dealer west of New York. We’ve sold thousands and thousands of Steinway pianos. If Henry Steinway were alive I’m confident he would stand in this office and confirm he knows of no one who’s sold more Steinway pianos than us. There’s just so much quality in each piano. It takes a whole year to build each Steinway, and 95 percent of the top artists in the world are Steinway artists. They now make Boston and Essex pianos so there are lower-price brands as well.

DN: Tell us about the “All-Steinway School” concept that you helped perpetuate and how that’s helped you stay in business.

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