The Star Interview

The Star Interview with Nadine Yousif – July 21, 2019

Owners of Edmonton’s iconic Lillo’s Music look to close shop by year’s end!

Joe Perry

EDMONTON — Lillo’s Music has been a fixture on the city’s music scene for more than 50 years. But its co-owner says this year may be its last.

The store, which opened in 1963, has been a staple on Whyte Ave. for most of its existence and is the oldest independent music shop in Edmonton. Popular among its customers, Lillo’s has amassed a loyal following — one that includes Aerosmith guitarist Joe Perry and Stevie Wonder.

But the store is getting ready to hang its “Closed” sign for good. Doreen Lillo, one half of the couple who founded the store, said the family-run shop is looking to sell most of its merchandise by the end of the year as she and her husband, Vic, are looking to retire. The store will continue running its music lessons, however, and is looking to continue selling merchandise online.

“It’s been a great run,” Doreen said solemnly.

The store had humble beginnings in Edmonton, and once expanded to Calgary, Fort McMurray and even Vancouver. But she said Edmonton was always home.

The couple opened the store shortly after they wed in the 1960s. It first operated as a music school, Doreen said, because they wanted to pass on their passion for teaching music to those who were enthralled by the iconic tunes of that era.

Doreen said she and her husband each had to borrow $500 from their families to pay for the store. Meanwhile, Vic went door-to-door around the store’s first location on 109 St. to advertise the opening of the music school, playing the piano in the homes of those who invited him in.

For Doreen, it was the couple’s love of music that drove them forward.

“We started from absolutely nothing,” she said. “But we just had lots of faith.”

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Soon enough, the couple began attracting music students to the store, and they moved the business to Edmonton’s bustling Whyte Ave. in the 1970s. Vic began collecting and selling musical instruments out of the store over the years, while Doreen continued to teach hundreds of students upstairs.

The couple’s children and grandchildren also became fixtures at the store, working in it over the years, while inheriting Doreen and Vic’s love for music.

“It’s been integral in our growing up, that’s for sure,” Danielle Medley, the couple’s youngest daughter, said.

Over the years, Medley said the store has had generations of students and customers. One famous faithful was Aerosmith’s Perry, who developed a friendship with Vic while searching through the store’s catalogue of rare vintage guitars.

Medley recalls Perry parking the band’s giant tour bus in front of the store during each of his visits, the last of which was in 2015, when Aerosmith travelled to Fort McMurray. “He’ll literally spend all day with my dad,” Medley said of Perry.

What kept rock legends and everyday musicians alike coming back to the store, Doreen said, is not only its rare merchandise but its unique family feel that has helped it form an intimate bond with Edmontonians over the decades.

“It’s a family store,” she said. “And there’s very few of us left.”

Doreen said interest in music among Edmontonians has changed over the years. The number of students has dwindled with the rise of the internet and new technology.

“A lot of the young people aren’t doing lessons anymore,” she said. “They’re mostly gaming, doing other stuff.”

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Despite this, Doreen said Edmonton continues to have a thriving, loyal music scene with customers who continue to frequent the store. She said she hopes to continue serving them through the store’s last days, by focusing on selling as much of the merchandise as possible before the doors close for good.

She said her only hope is that the shop’s most-prized instruments will be sold to local Edmontonians, not to big chain music stores.

Doreen said she and Vic will shut down the store with a heavy heart, calling it an end of an era.

“It’s just been one great run for Vic and myself and my family,” she said. “They will all probably want to cry when we close the door.”