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Longtime WV piano salesman to retire

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CEREDO, W.Va. (AP) - Dan Ferguson's work in life has been filled with a grand and glorious musical feeling.

The Wayne native whose mom was the church pianist has spent his life working in the church music ministry, and for the past 55 years, selling top-of-the-line pianos to new generations of music lovers who routinely come from as far away as Virginia to get their hands on a new Yamaha from Dan Ferguson Music .

Looking past his window-wrapped showroom into a January rain, Ferguson knows he has one of the hardest decisions of his life in the year ahead.

Ferguson said it is time to somehow sell the music business he built from a tiny concrete block building behind his Kenova house on Walnut Street to the 6,000-squarefoot building whose showroom is packed with exquisite grand and concert pianos by such revered brands as Yamaha and Kawai.

Ferguson, who will be 77 this summer, said it is time to step away from the daily hustle of the business that sits just feet away from the bustling U.S. 60 connecting Ceredo and Kenova.

By April, he hopes to have found someone to buy the business and to carry on the grand tradition of the store that has sold pianos to everyone from Nick Nolte to Michael W. Smith.

As the national piano business has dwindled (only 88,000 new pianos were sold last year in the U.S.), Ferguson said Dan Ferguson Music is now one of the few new piano stores in the region and thus sells pianos regularly within a 150-mile radius.

In fact, earlier this month, there was a piano heading out the door to Tamarack in Beckley, where Ferguson still sales many pianos. And his pianos sit in universities from West Virginia University to the east, Virginia Tech University to the south and the University of Cincinnati and University of Kentucky to the west.

If there are concerts in the state, whether it is the Clay Center or the Greenbrier, Ferguson is trucking over one of his concert grand pianos.

Though he has established one of the top names in the retail piano business (Ferguson was awarded the International Music Products Association Milestone Award in 2007), Ferguson fears no one will be able to buy the business.

"We've really tried to find someone to follow in our tracks but what you ordinarily see here is half a million dollars' worth of pianos," said Ferguson. "We've been shaving it down knowing that it is a pretty heavy investment. You might have a $20,000 piano that sits out there two years because you have it in mahogany and they wanted ebony."

Ferguson said there have been some talks with his now-retired top salesman, Dick Lucas, who worked with Ferguson for 25 years. But nothing has been finalized, and Ferguson said the current building would be sold and the store moved with probably less inventory to a space at the adjacent strip mall.

"I'm still strong and that's one of my problems is that physically I feel like I can still move those grand pianos around like I'm a young buck but I will be 77 this summer," Ferguson said, "And so it's time."

Surrounded by four walls packed with photos of family and friends, many from the music business, Ferguson said stepping away will allow him time to more thoroughly enjoy his family and traveling back and forth between his Wayne County home-base and his family's vacation home in Stuart, Fla., where they have had a place for more than 30 years.

Ferguson said he had to thank his wife Alice Lee for being long suffering these many years that he was consumed by the music and helping the community.

In addition to the piano business and 20 years as music minister at First Baptist Church of Kenova, Ferguson also had 250 apartments built nearby, served as the president of First Bank of Ceredo, on the board of directors at United National Bank, and president of both the local chapter of the Rotary International and of the Ceredo-Kenova Chamber of Commerce.

"My wife has been so supportive, and I've worked seven days a week all of my life," Ferguson said. "Between the store and the church I never did take a day off. I would go out of town maybe a couple of weeks but when I was in town there was no such thing as a day off." Though every day has been a labor of love.

When his business turned 50 in 2007, the WVU graduate who played French horn and piano in college, told The Herald-Dispatch that "I have never been to work a day in my life" because he loved what he did.

That love is evident too in his staff. The store's secretary, Louise Ferguson (no relation to Dan's family), has been walking one street over from her home to the shop for 46 years, and she can't think of a life not surrounded by the business of music.

And like Louise, something tells you the man who kept his first sales receipt (a Model 300 Mahogany Starck Spinet piano that sold for $408 taxed and boxed) won't be standing still in retirement or straying too far either.

"A piano is for a lifetime because you can't wear it out," Ferguson said, "this is not like the car business... I will try to still be involved in some way. I'll still have the same phone number and will be open for whatever people want to ask about."

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.