Music to our ears: Sarlettes Music celebrates seven decades in business

Sarlettes Music in downtown Morris is celebrating 70 years of serving the community musicians and music students. 

In 1953, Walt and Florence Sarlette opened the doors of Sarlettes Music in 1953. Originally located on West 6th St. in a building where McGinnis Appliance now stands, the music store was in a two-story building known as the “glass block.” Sarlettes was located in the back of the building facing 6th St in a small portion of the building about half the size of the current location. 

In 1959, Sarlettes Music moved to Atlantic Ave to where John’s Total Entertainment now sits. Back then, that building was split into two stores. Sarlettes Music was on the north side, and on the south was Walt’s Shoes. “No relation, my dad was also named Walt, but it was a different Walt that had the shoe store,” says Del Sarlette, current owner of Sarlettes Music. 

After 10 years, Sarlettes made the move across the street to their current location. What is now Sarlettes Music used to be home to a grocery store. The basement housed lockers and a freezer, and the back where Del has a repair shop used to be where the grocers would butcher, and above the currently lowered ceiling there are still hooks from that time. 

Prior to starting a music store, Walt Sarlette was a band director at Morris schools, where he met his wife, Florence, who was working as a business and accounting teacher. They decided to leave teaching and try their hand at business. About a year after Walt left teaching, the Kensington School superintendent reached out to him to ask if he’d be a part time band director for them. For two days each week, Walt taught band in Kensington for about 20 years in addition to running the music store and occasionally tuning pianos.

Florence handled the bookwork, and Del began working for them in 8th grade after school and during summers. “It’s been a family oriented business for a long time,” says Del.

Walt passed away in 1978 and Del and his wife, Carlene, bought the store from his mother in 1981, and has owned it ever since. Carlene has a background in music, as well. Prior to moving to Morris with Del, she taught band for a year in Iowa. 

Del attended UMN Morris for two years majoring in economics and minoring in music, but decided to take a break and attend school in Iowa to study band instrument repair. Later, he returned to UMN Morris to continue his studies on a part time basis. When he came back to work at the store, he began calling on schools in the area to offer repair services which in turn became a focal point of the business.

Employee Mike Odello has been with Sarlettes since 2008. With a background in teaching music and summer experience repairing band instruments in California, he was a great fit for the store.  

They can usually have an instrument repaired and returned to the player within a week, which is handy for local students. They also offer instrument rentals for students just starting out in their band program, and also offer a rent to own option.

Sarlettes has a nice selection of guitars and ukuleles. Ukuleles have been becoming popular, particularly with elementary school music classes because they only have four strings and are relatively inexpensive.

Instrument repairs makeup for a large portion of their services, as well. Many come in with dents, and some even come in with cracks and holes from being dented and repaired multiple times. Every once in a while, they might even find something stuffed into instruments. Mike and Del have both found sandwiches, candy, and pens inside instruments. Del even one time thought there might be a dead bird inside of one when he reached in and pulled a feather out. It turns out that it was a professional badminton shuttlecock with real feathers. 

Mike says his favorite item found in an instrument was a stuffed version of Larry the Cucumber from Veggie Tales with a cardboard cutout of a sousaphone attached to it – and it was stuffed inside a real sousaphone. Between the two of them, they have about 75 years of experience. “We’ve seen a lot,” Mike says.

In an age that ordering everything online is the norm, Sarlettes reminds the community that personal service has great value. When you purchase a guitar from Sarlettes, you might go home and break the high e string while tuning. You can bring the guitar back to the store, and they can get you a new string and even put it on the instrument for you, all in the same day.

Sarlettes doesn’t only have instruments for you to buy, but they will make sure they’re in working order. Every keyboard that comes into the store is checked thoroughly by Mike to make sure each key works. Not only will they deliver large instruments like keyboards and drum kits to your home, but they’ll bring it inside and set it up where you want. Online ordering doesn’t come with service like that.

If there’s a service that they don’t offer, 70 years of business has given them many connections so they can point customers in the right direction.

For the past 70 years Sarlettes Music has been an integral part of the community, and they continue to offer service and expertise to the musicians in and around Stevens County. They will be hosting a sale & party to celebrate seven decades of business on Saturday, Sep. 30 from 9:00 am to 4:00 pm at their store. There will be huge discounts on almost everything in the store, as well as live music by the Cheese Bots from 12:30 pm to 3:00 pm, and refreshments will be served.