By last week, just four months after opening his new music school and store in downtown Rock Island, Andrzej Kozlowski was already busy renovating a much larger downtown space for his business, Sound Conservatory.

Sound Conservatory owner Andrzej Kozlowski, pictured in his new building, 1600 2nd Ave., Rock Island, July 8, 2022 (photos by Jonathan Turner).

“I have been approached by other teachers wanting to join, but I have no room at my current location,” he said in a recent tour of the new space, the ground floor of 1600 2nd Ave., which opened in 1901 as the Illinois Theatre. “I love history, I love this building. There’s no reason to tear it down.”

A former contractor, Kozlowski and his cousin did all the labor on remodeling the current 1,890-square-foot space for Sound Conservatory, which opened March 1, 2022 at 2235 3rd Ave., Rock Island, next to dphilms.

A gifted pianist, piano tuner, rebuilder and teacher, Kozlowski worked two months on the first $20,000 renovations, completely remodeling the interior, including hickory-style vinyl plank flooring. He’s doing a lot of the current building work himself.

The three-story building at 1600 2nd Ave. is 37,000 square feet, owned by the YWCA – which is constructing a new 48,900-square-foot building at 1702-1794 5th Ave., Rock Island. The 2nd Avenue site (now leased with an option to buy) has mainly been used as an annex for storage and the first-level Sound Conservatory is occupying a former gym, with maple hardwood floors.

A view of the first floor, with hardwood floors and 16-foot-high ceilings.

The new space (with 16-foot-high ceilings) will greatly expand the amount of area for teaching, performance, and sales display for pianos, guitars, other instruments, and sheet music. Sound Conservatory currently has eight instructors and is bringing more on, including for percussion, Kozlowski said.

The business also offers piano tuning, piano moving, guitar and string instrument restringing, and string instrument bridge replacement.

He is leasing the entire 2nd Avenue corner building and by next summer plans to renovate the second floor for an arts performance venue, and third floor for condominiums.

Kozlowski anticipates spending about $150,000 alone on the remodel for five condos, which would range between 1,300 and 2,500 square feet.

Space on the third floor, to be converted to condos in summer 2023.

“I think this is something, for downtown Rock Island, is needed – not just for the music school, but housing and a performance venue,” he said. “With the visibility of this building from the bridge, we’re going to improve the aesthetics, coming into Rock Island, we’re gonna get one of those old-style, vertical signs for the building.”

“This is going to be a game-changer for downtown Rock Island,” he said of the new life for the historic building next to Centennial Bridge.

A framed photo of the former 1901 Illinois Theatre is inside the building at 1600 2nd Ave., Rock Island.

By 1920, the former Illinois Theatre exterior was remodeled, eliminating the peaked gable at the front and changing its appearance to what we see today on the upper stories, according to Rock Island Preservation Society. Further construction was announced in 1929, when the theater was converted to a Montgomery Ward Department Store.

After Ward’s moved from the building, the former theatre became home to a series of furniture stores. For over 30 years, Hyman’s Furniture was the anchor, and in 2006, former owner Stanley Goldman consolidated his furniture stores in the former McCabe’s building (today’s Stern Center) and donated the old Illinois Theatre to the YWCA.

“Amazing to see”

Jack Cullen, Quad Cities Chamber director for downtown Rock Island, said Monday:

“It’s amazing to see how quickly Sound Conservatory entered the market and transitioned to expansion mode. Andrzej Kozlowski and his team have a niche business model, and they are filling a gap in the music education industry in the Quad Cities.”

Kozlowski worked with Cullen to find a site to expand his business.

The current building being renovated at 1600 2nd Ave., Rock Island.

“When he expressed interest in the YWCA Annex at 1600 2nd Avenue, I connected him with the Y leadership, and fortunately, they were able to make a deal that worked for both parties,” Cullen said. “It’s a big win to retain this growing business in Downtown Rock Island and an even bigger win for the community that they are reactivating a highly visible, historic storefront and building near the foot of Centennial Bridge.”

Tarah Sipes, the city’s economic development manager, said Monday that the creative ideas Kozlowski has for the building are exciting.

“He has seen a demand in the marketplace for the services his business offers and he is working with his team of instructors to meet it,” she said. “The foot traffic generated by the expansion of this business should help to support other businesses within the surrounding area.

The third-floor view facing north, looks out over the Centennial Bridge.

“The economic development team looks forward to working with him to help bring his vision to life,” Sipes said. “The performance space will be interesting and complement existing spaces nicely. I think the view from the condos should help make the spaces very marketable.”

Plans for the building

The new Sound Conservatory (scheduled to open by mid-August) will include teacher studios, space for rent for bands to rehearse, small practice rooms, and a reception area with displays on the history of famous musicians from the QC, such as Louie Bellson and Bix Beiderbecke.

Space on the second floor will be converted to a performance venue and reception area.

The new building would offer space for about 80 people to attend scholarship benefit concerts, as opposed to the 30-person capacity in the current space. They have raised nearly $3,000 in scholarships for 12 students, and boosting the scholarship fund is a main priority for Kozlowski.

He will sell Mason & Hamlin pianos, which he called the greatest piano maker in America, even better than Steinway & Sons.

“They produce on average, 250 pianos a year, and Steinway produces 2,000,” Kozlowski said. “They are more obsessed with the details, craftsmanship. They make everything by hand.”

“They use the exact same approach as the 1900s-to-1930s, golden era of piano-making,” he said. They are the heaviest pianos ever built – at his 1910 Rock Island home, he has a nine-and-a-half-foot Mason & Hamlin concert grand, that weighs 1,700 pounds.

Kozlowski pictured on the first floor of the new Sound Conservatory, July 8, 2022.

Their grand pianos range in price from $40,000 up to $250,000, Kozlowski said, and less expensive uprights (around $9,000).

For area music teachers, Sound Conservatory charges a flat room fee and doesn’t take any portion of their teaching fees from students. It also is perfect timing for Kozlowski’s larger space, as West Music plans to close its Moline store this fall.

As of July 1, West Music has acquired Griggs Music, and both QC locations will continue to operate — Griggs Music, 3849 Brady St., Davenport, and the West location, 4305 44th Ave, Moline, but West’s Moline store is expected to close after September.

A view of the new Sound Conservatory space facing 2nd Avenue, downtown Rock Island.

“People don’t like to cross the bridge; I hear that all the time,” Kozlowski said. “Even though it takes two minutes to go over.”

“It’s a loss for the music industry and people’s perception of the arts,” he said of West’s closing. “We want to do what we can to make sure that loss is made up for.”

Public preview coming

Sound Conservatory will give people a sneak peek of the new space on Saturday, July 16th, with a grand relocation party from noon to 2:30 p.m. They will hold a drawing for a chance to win a FREE upright piano as well as contests to win free lessons. Funktastic 5 will perform from noon to 1:30 p.m.

The music school and store has given away four upright pianos and nearly $3,000 in scholarships to local students in need.

For more information, visit Sound Conservatory on Facebook.