Music firm gives away five pianos as former boss steps down after 50 years
PUBLISHED: 07:43 24 September 2020 | UPDATED: 13:21 24 September 2020
A music shop in Norwich which is one of the oldest in the UK is marking the retirement of its ‘Piano Man’ in a special way.
Cookes, which was founded in 1887, is commemorating five decades of dedicated service from manager Steve Battle by putting five pianos up for grabs.
Mr Battle went from being a teenage shop assistant, joining the business aged just 17, to work his way up to being company director and buying the firm with his late business partner in 1989 from a descendant of the founder. He ran the business for 27 years with wife Joe before eventually selling it in 2016 to Miller’s Music of Cambridge, but continuing as manager.
This month marks 50 years at the music store and a new chapter as he steps down into a consultative role. An accomplished musician himself, specialising in playing the classical organ and piano, Mr Battle is renowned at Cookes for his vast knowledge of products and his relationship with customers.
Current owner Simon Pollard said: “We’re so proud to have Cookes Pianos as part of our group at Millers and to be able to celebrate this milestone with Steve and his family. There are very few people who will achieve this in their careers and I’m so pleased that we’re recognising Steve’s achievement but also supporting music across Norfolk. Whilst retail has no doubt changed forever, we know customers appreciate great customer service and I’m so pleased to have Steve’s experience for the foreseeable future to help us as we plan the future for Cookes and Millers.”
To celebrate the milestone, Cookes is giving away five £1,000 pianos for every decade Mr Battle has worked in the business which will be donated to local organisations or individuals, many hard hit by Covid-19.
Mr Battle said: “I can’t quite believe it was 50 years ago when I stepped through the door at Cookes. I’ve had some amazing times, made great friends, and travelled the world - even visiting my son in Japan in 2017, who now works for Kawai Pianos. When Bill, my former business partner, and I bought the business we always thought of ourselves as caretakers – our job was to look after it and hand it on to the next generation. With the team at Millers I’m confident we’ve successfully done so and the business is in safe hands.
“I’m so pleased to be able to celebrate this milestone with my family, friends and all the team at Cookes and Millers. I’d like to thank everyone who has helped and supported us over the years.”
Cookes closed in March in lockdown but saw a resurgence in popularity of musical instruments at this time when people were looking for activities to do at home and the piano, in particular, has, apparently, seen a huge increase in demand. “We at Cookes continued to trade online, the team operating from kitchen tables and sofas, we quickly developed the website, added booking systems, virtual consultations and rental applications to provide all their services to customers in new ways.”
History of Cookes
In 1887 Arthur Cooke opened Cookes music shop in Norwich, specialising in selling pianos. The outbreak of the Second World War had a devastating effect because piano factories in London were turned over to the war effort, with their craftsmen building wooden aircraft frames instead. After the war, Cookes, now under the control of Mr AW Cooke, the second, and his son Arthur Jr, used their skills to recondition old pianos as new ones were difficult to find.
Bill Kilgour joined Cookes as an apprentice and would later become managing director.
In the 1960s the firm expanded into selling guitars and other music equipment with Cookes Band Instruments opening in 1964. To drum up more business, equipment was loaned for gigs and practice sessions in the evenings for the bands to try, and within three years they’d made enough money to buy the shop’s current premises in St Benedict’s Street.
The business was then run by the fifth generation of the Cooke family before Mr Battle bought it in 1989.
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