Griggs Music’s history goes back well over a century and includes all of the ups and downs of the Roaring 20s, the Great Depression, two world wars, vast changes in technology and musical tastes, and much more. Throughout all of this, however, the Griggs name has remained synonymous with music and excellence in musical instrument sales in Eastern Iowa and Northwest Illinois.
Before 1903 – Laying the Groundwork for Griggs Music House
In 1880, Phillip M. Griggs and his wife, Anna, moved with their four sons—Arthur P. Griggs the eldest—from Madison, Georgia to Kewanee, Illinois to escape the poverty of the reconstruction-era South. Phillip opened a general store in Kewanee similar to the one they left behind in Georgia, but with one key difference: an added inventory of pianos. Phillip’s son, Arthur, spent a year at the University of Wisconsin and held a number of retail sales positions before finally returning to the family business as a salesman.
By 1890, the popularity of the piano had grown, and so had the Griggs family’s business. Arthur had begun to earn a reputation among a number of piano manufacturers as an honest, hardworking, and successful piano salesman.
1903 to 1929 – Griggs Music House Thrives and Becomes the Arthur P. Griggs Piano Company
In 1903, Arthur P. Griggs moved to Davenport, Iowa to target the opportunity in the Quad Cities area, which had a larger population than Kewanee. Arthur opened Griggs Music House in downtown Davenport at age 28, capitalizing on assistance from a number of piano manufacturers with whom he had been building confidence.
By 1920, Griggs Music House had expanded to offer pianos, band and orchestral instruments, phonographs, sheet music, and record albums. This added inventory necessitated the move to a larger facility in downtown Davenport, and Arthur decided to reincorporate the company under a new name: the Arthur P. Griggs Piano Company.
Mass adoption of the automobile meant that commuting had become easier for more people, so Arthur sought to expand his business even further by opening branch locations in Moline and Peoria, Illinois, as well as Muscatine, Clinton, and Des Moines, Iowa.
However, by 1925, Arthur found that the work required to manage and the costs of keeping proper inventory in so many locations were overwhelming. So, after closing down all his extra stores, he returned his focus to the Davenport location full time. Here, he was now beginning to carry his own private label pianos, branded Arthur P. Griggs Pianos, as well as a private label line of Platt phonographs.
1929 to 1936 – the Great Depression Takes a Toll on the Musical Instrument Business
The effects of the Great Depression made for struggling music stores, many of which looked into other markets to stay afloat. Griggs Piano Company, like many others, began carrying electric refrigerators as well as movie cameras and projectors, while also liquidating their inventory of pianos and keeping only some band instruments in stock. Arthur then moved his business to a much smaller location where he mostly collected on outstanding contracts. His eldest son, Arthur W. Griggs, even began making dance floor wax on the side for supplemental income.
1936 to 1941 – a Return to Piano Sales and Delivery of Other New Products
In 1936, following improvement in the national economy and a renewed demand for pianos, the Arthur P. Griggs Piano Company reintroduced pianos into the inventory. Arthur also began to offer the Everett line of church organs, some small radios, and the Magnavox phonograph. As Magnavox grew, it diversified its offerings, and these became important product lines for Griggs Piano’s business.
1941 to 1945 – World War II
The Second World War saw most major piano manufacturers convert their production lines to make equipment in support of the war effort. This led Arthur P. Griggs to liquidate his piano inventory once again. His company survived this period mostly by repairing upright pianos and selling used upright pianos. His son, Arthur W. Griggs, was drafted and went overseas to serve his country in the military.
1945 to 1963 – Post-War Expansion
The Arthur P. Griggs Piano Company expanded once again following the conclusion of World War II. In 1951, following a stroke, Arthur P. Griggs was forced to retire, and he handed the operations of his company over to his son Arthur W. Griggs and his daughter Charlotte Griggs. Together, they expanded their father’s business to include Zenith and Sony transistor radios, home organs, and Allen organs.
Later, in 1962, following the popularization of component stereo systems, the Arthur P. Griggs Piano Company became the first component audio equipment retailer in Davenport. These products included H.H. Scott electronics, Bozak speakers, Fairchild turntables, and Tandberg tape recorders.
1963 to 1970 – the Arthur P. Griggs Piano Company Evolves Into its Current Form
In 1962, Marjorie Griggs, the youngest daughter of Arthur P. Griggs, married Jim Partridge, an experienced choral and band director. By 1966, sensing the opportunity for growth in the band and orchestral instrument market, Arthur W. and Charlotte asked Jim Partridge to come on board with the company and oversee the development of this department. Jim began personally calling on schools, and he also improved the company’s inventory to include the best quality lines.
1970 to Present – Ownership Change and New Locations Opened
During the next few years of growth, it became clear to Arthur W. and Charlotte that a bigger space was necessary. After deciding against remodeling their current location due to parking issues and the general decline of the surrounding neighborhood, in 1970, the business was moved to a larger, newly-remodeled location, where the company has remained in operation to this day. When the business was moved, it was also renamed Griggs Music, Inc. to better represent the full line of musical equipment being offered.
Charlotte Griggs retired from the business in 1980 after almost 30 years of successful service. In the 1980s, the prevailing culture made guitars and basses much more popular than they had been in the past, so Griggs Music’s inventory became much more guitar-focused to address this shift. In 1986, Arthur W. Griggs also retired and handed over sole ownership of the company to Jim Partridge, who ran the business until his retirement in 1998. At this point, longtime employees Steve Judge, Doug Davis, and Carolyn Tittsworth stepped up into co-ownership and assumed the management of Griggs Music.
In 2000, a branch store was opened in Washington, Iowa to serve local school markets there in Southeast Iowa. Later, in 2011, another branch location was opened in Cedar Rapids, Iowa to accommodate the local school market there and provide service and repairs to the area as well.
At Griggs Music today, we are proud to be a part of this history that goes back over 114 years, and we are excited to be a part of the next chapter.
Call us today at 877-391-9001 or contact us for more information or to find a location nearest you. We look forward to serving all of your musical needs!