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Richmond Firsts Mar14

The Times-Dispatch called it "The firm that made Richmond musical." The story took over more than a page with description and pictures. It was about the Corley Company, the creation of John Green Corley, who came to Richmond from Nashville, Tennessee at age 24 in 1877 and found employment at the musical store of Sanders & Stayman at 1217 East Main Street.

In 1890, the firm changed its name to Richmond Music Company and moved to 7 East Broad Street, the first music store on Broad Street. Business continued to grow and was moved to 215 East Broad.

The piano business was a motivating factor. The Cable Company of Chicago was said to be the largest manufacturer of pianos with branches in every important city in the country. They came to Richmond in 1885 and took over the Richmond Music Company. Mr. Corley was appointed General Manager of the local operation, which covered the two Virginias, North Carolina and part of South Carolina. Things went so well that in October 1911 Corley organized a local stock company, and with $200,000 purchased the Richmond interest in the company and changed the name of the firm to the Corley Company.

Mr. Corley had a firm belief that Grace Street, in time, was destined to become the main retail street in the city. With this in mind, he purchased 206 East Grace Street. This gave the store two entrances in the building, with one on Broad and then 315 feet to Grace Street. The four-story building included a 400-seat auditorium as well as soundproof studios for use of teachers.

The overall operation of the business of the Corley Company was now extended as far northwest as Minneapolis, Minnesota, as far west as St. Louis and Kansas, and to the south into Louisiana and Florida.

One of the more interesting local sales promotions can be found in a local paper ad in December 1912. The headline read: "We Make This Special Offer." It went on to say: "We will send prospective purchasers any Player Piano on our floors with one dozen music rolls, delivered in your home FREE. You keep it during the holidays, play it, test it, investigate it and if, after the holidays you do not want to keep it, simply notify us and we will have it returned to our warerooms without expense to you."

It should be noted that Corley also found time to be president of the local Rotary Club, Vice Chairman of the City School Board, member of the Board of Trustees of the Women’s College, member of the Board of Directors of the Chamber of Commerce and president of the Wednesday Club.

Ray Schreiner is a volunteer at the Valentine Richmond History Center and the Virginia Historical Society.