BLACKFOOTâ€”Five years ago when the U.S. economy was crumbling, the Claude Nielsen family of Thomas took a chance by opening a small music shop in downtown Blackfoot. That store, "Music & Families," despite the odds it was up against, has grown into a successful family business with no signs of stopping.
Claude said it all started back in the 90s when his daughter [Larene] who was about eight years old at the time - wanted to learn to play the violin.
Claude, who loves to build and fix things, ended up making violins for all three of his daughters: Larene and her younger sisters Andrea and Montana.
"I had always wanted to learn to play the violin too. I didn't want them [my daughters] to learn without me, so we all took lessons together," Claude said.
Claude went on to make more violins and ran a small business on the side repairing the instruments as well. With Claude and the girls on the violins, and [wife and mother] Deanna accompanying them on the piano, the family enjoyed entertaining together at church functions and different events throughout the community.
Years later, Claude said his daughters broached the idea of "starting a family music business." He admits, that at first, he was not too hip on the idea. He had made a good living through the years working as an engineer at the INL and later as a teacher at the Idaho Leadership Academy and thought he would settle into retirement.
However, the girls managed to convince their father to give the business a whirl. In 2008 "Music & Families" opened up shop in the old Milmore Building.
"I've always had a hard time telling my little girls 'no,' " he joked.
These days, Claude is "singing a different tune," as he helps run the busy store (now located at 593 W. Bridge St.) with daughters Andrea and Larene, wife Deanna, son-in-law Barry [Frei] and repairman Tom Daley.
The store, which started out selling just sheet music and a few instruments, has grown to be a musical hub attracting business from around the region. Besides selling and repairing musical instruments, 'Music & Families' offers voice lessons and a spectrum of music lessons including the piano, guitar, violin and mandolin from top instructors. The Nielsens offer practice rooms 'free of charge' for anyone who needs a place to rehearse.
Since opening the store, Claude has learned to play a variety of instruments. He encourages others, regardless of their age, to "learn to play something that they've always wanted to play."
"I tell people that it's never too late to learn to play an instrument. I learned to play the guitar at 64 and the flute at 68," he stated. "I love helping people learn to play an instrument."
The Nielsen grandchildren are growing up in the family business - all musically inclined in their own right. Grandson Julian (7) plays the piano and the violin; Granddaughters Elanor (10) plays piano and guitar, Adelle (9) plays piano and trumpet. Even baby Tallulah is already toddling around the store with a violin in tote.
"Our motto is 'Strengthening families through music,' We want to do everything we can to help families play together," Claude remarked.
Claude, who claims that he would eventually like to retire "again" someday, knows that when he eventually steps back from the business, that "Music & Families" will be in the capable hands of his daughter Larene and her husband Barry. The couple met at Idaho State University where they were both studying music. The two share a passion for music and look forward to growing the family business to a new level.
"I have grown to love this business and believe it has been a great asset to the community," Claude stated. "We are grateful to everyone who has helped make the business a success. We owe Blackfoot a great big 'thank you!' "
The Nielsens are celebrating "Music & Families" 5-year anniversary and expressing their appreciation to the Blackfoot community by holding a celebration at the store on Sept. 21 and 28. There will be free food and specials throughout the store.
For more information go to www.musicfamilies.com or find them facebook.com/musicfamilies.