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Brickhouse Music expands building, repertoire

Brickhouse Music unveils an addition that's been in the works since last summer. From Left: Jen Burleigh-Bentz, Jeremy Davis, Tom Bentz. <i>Debbie Griffin photo</i>

After eight years at its current location, 15 years in River Falls and a total of 20 in business, Brickhouse Music, 216 S. Main St., expanded its store, adding about 1,200 square feet of space by converting cold-storage space to usable, indoor space.

Jen Burleigh-Bentz, co-owner and operator of the store with husband Tom, showed how the expansion adds a group-lesson room, two 'soundproof' rooms, better lighting, a bigger parent-waiting area with a digital sign board, a spray booth, and a first-ever amenity -- an employee break area.

She said local contractors helped them transform the former rickety storage shed into fully-finished indoor space, using concrete block to connect it and creating floor and roof along with it.

Brickhouse began the project last June and now only lacks wall art to finish it.

Though project costs nearly doubled by the end and involved unanticipated borrowing, Burleigh-Bentz said everyone is very excited to finish it and have the added capabilities.

Having the new space creates improvements throughout the store.

A new doorway adds access to the back of the instrument-repair area. The new sound-insulated room muffles even loud trumpets or drums. A spray booth with a special exhaust system allows the instrument-repair experts to do finishes without having to go outside.

And, the owners say Brickhouse's nine employees and 13 contractor teachers look forward to having an actual break room -- somewhere uncluttered to eat or step away for a few minutes.

More space, more learning

Said Burleigh-Bentz: "We started with group guitar 1 and 2 lessons."

Now that Brickhouse has a group-lesson room and more space generally, it can offer more kinds of lessons.

The new room seats 16-20 musicians depending on what instruments they're playing.

She said an ensemble class will help musicians understand how to 'join in and jam' with others.

The co-owner points out that while many people know how to play an instrument, they may never have played with others and not know how. Brickhouse will also add learning opportunities such as Music Theory 1, a rock-band camp, restringing a guitar, proper setup of a public-announcement (PA) system and jazz camp.

"We also have a ukulele class starting April 8," said Burleigh-Bentz, adding that the business will host a ukulele (and banjo) clinic the weekend before classes start -- during the big Bluegrass Music Festival April 5-7.

Burleigh-Bentz said Brickhouse has about 350 students taking various lessons, and the business holds four showcases a year featuring different students.

In the past, that required them to clear out half their retail space to make room for a group.

Brickhouse hours are 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday; 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Friday; 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday; and noon to 8 p.m. Monday; the store closes for a day off on Sunday.

Music, more

Brickhouse Music's service area is the St. Croix Valley, which Burleigh-Bentz says includes parts of Wisconsin and Minnesota. People come from Amery, Hudson, Afton and "all over."

People come seeking what the store offers: New and used instrument sales including digital pianos, keyboards, orchestra pieces, and emphasis on guitar/bass/percussion; private and group music lessons; instrument repair and rental; sheet music; and specialized accessories.

Also, when Brickhouse says it "does bluegrass," people who know that genre automatically know what those things would be -- banjo, ukulele, mandolin...

Burleigh-Bentz added, "We have a professional recording studio," referring to the basement facility people can rent for $45 an hour, which includes a sound engineer.

Both she and husband Tom perform regularly -- he most often on a musical stage and she most often on the theater stage.

Burleigh-Bentz said Tom will play at Shooter's Pub March 22 and at Johnnie's Bar during the April 5-7 Bluegrass Music Festival.

People can catch Tom playing locally during the summer-long series Music in the (Veterans) Park, at outdoor UW-River Falls shows and at other regional venues including Eau Claire.

Actress, singer, dancer and Broadway veteran Burleigh-Bentz appears in various productions around the Twin Cities. Some might have seen her featured in "A Christmas of Swing," a story about the famous harmony-singing Andrew sisters.

Lately she's been one of four vocalists traveling around the country and singing with orchestras in a show that pays tribute to the music of Karen and Richard Carpenter.

Burleigh-Bentz said she worked a local gig incorporating a New York City theme into the St. Bridget's annual gala event. She cites several performances in upcoming productions: "Primrose Path" at the Guthrie Theater, "Nine to Five" at the Minnetonka Theatre, and "Christmas of Swing" at the History Theatre.

She said the owners are excited to finish the addition and look forward to several occasions throughout the year celebrating their new space, expanded services and two different business anniversaries.