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Navratil Music Co. turns 100 years old

By ALLISON MILES
April 22, 2010 at midnight
Updated April 23, 2010 at 11:24 p.m.

Sitting behind a grand piano, Bill Navratil has earned a reputation for his generosity and good customer service. Navratil's music business has been operating in Victoria since 1965.

NAVRATIL MUSIC CO. TIMELINE

1910: Navratil Music Co. opens first site on the square in Brenham

1948: F.J. "Professor" Navratil, the company's original owner, dies

1957: Bill Navratil enters the family business

1959: Wharton site opens

1965: Victoria site opens

1984: Sold Brenham and Wharton locations

2010: Company reaches its 100th anniversary

TIMES THEY ARE A-CHANGIN'

Like many things, the music industry changed over time, said Bill Navratil, who owns Navratil Music Co. on Rio Grande Street.

Around 1948, he explained, school bands gained popularity, so music companies began calling on area schools, he said. Bellevue, Sealy and East Bernard were a few regional communities that joined the trend, he said.

The industry really took off when Elvis Presley and the Beatles made it big around 1957 and 1960, Navratil said.

"When that hit, you couldn't get instruments fast enough," he said.

The evolution of the Internet hurt smaller stores and made the industry more impersonal, he said. Online shopping also introduced other problems.

Customers don't see the product firsthand before making purchases and, at times, end up with less-than-quality items.

"You've got to know what you're doing," he said, explaining that many people who shop for instruments need guidance and advice. "You have to trust the people who sell it to you."

The tan building on Rio Grande Street has played home to many milestones: a child's first guitar, the spark of a person's love of music and the like. This year, the company that owns the building celebrates an achievement all its own.

2010 marks Navratil Music Co.'s 100th year in business.

In the beginning

The company's story starts in Galveston, when F.J. "Professor" Navratil came to the United States from Moravia, said Bill Navratil, F.J.'s grandson, who now owns the store.

F.J. Navratil moved to Kinney, married and opened a community store with his brother-in-law in the years that followed.

"He used to take the train nine miles to Brenham, where he would teach private lessons," Navratil said of his grandfather.

In 1910, F.J. Navratil moved to Brenham and opened a shop in the town square.

Although it boasted the name Navratil Music Co., it didn't specialize solely in music. The Brenham store sold TVs and appliances, too.

"Years ago, with a music business in a small town, you couldn't make it," Navratil said. "There wasn't that much activity."

As time progressed, the company opened sites in Wharton and, in 1965, Victoria. The Wharton and Brenham sites both closed in 1984, but Victoria held strong.

Flint Navratil is Bill Navratil's son and said he helped out off and on for 32 years. His brother, William Michael, also helped.

"We did what we could," he said as Domingo 'Mingo' Naranjo, a company employee, busied himself behind the counter. "I'm back right now, helping my dad out. I want to be here for him."

'Try to do the right thing by your customers'

Navratil attributes much of his company's success to customer service. It's something Navratil said his father, Irvin Navratil, taught him early on.

"I think he was the only person around that would let people try out their items before they bought them," he said. "He'd let them try out a TV for a week and, at the end, if they decided they didn't want to buy it, would go out and pick it up."

If someone needed an appliance part, he added, Irvin Navratil didn't wait on the mail. He retrieved it himself from Houston.

"Just give them service, that's the name of the game," Navratil said. "Treating people like they should be treated and helping them if they need help. Try to do the right thing by your customers."

Robert Rodriguez worked at Navratil Music Co. for 26 years. He also knew Bill's father, a person he described as "a strict businessman."

It wasn't always easy for the mom-and-pop business because people sometimes took advantage of the staff's generosity, said Rodriguez, who now works as a mariachi teacher for the Victoria school district. But the company always put customers' needs first.

"He does things for customers that sometimes I wouldn't do," Rodriguez said with a laugh. "Bill would extend payments for customers who were down hard on their luck. He is still a very caring person."

Daryl McCulloch, a retired band director and professional musician in Victoria, has known Navratil since 1983. He said the shop often went above and beyond the call of duty.

"Bill has special ordered equipment for me no one else wanted to order," he said. "He would call friend of friends all the way in New York to help me get what I needed. No one else would do it."

Caring for the next generation

The shop is good to students in band programs, McCulloch added.

At times, Navratil has been ready to close shop and go home when a student showed up with a broken instrument.

"And he'll fix it," he said. "I get very emotional talking about Bill Navratil. It seems like he has a heart of gold."

The future is bright for up-and-coming musicians throughout the Crossroads, Navratil said. Students have options to choose from in school, including numerous sports and arts classes, but Jay Lester, the Victoria school district's fine arts director, has brought music to the forefront.

"Usually, it took the back seat," Navratil said. "Lester is doing a good job."

As for what the store's future holds? Navratil said he isn't sure.

He was recently diagnosed with cancer and, while he still makes it in to his wood-paneled office regularly, his chemotherapy treatments take some getting used to.

He said he also doubts his family will continue the store once he's gone.

In the meantime, they're taking it a day at a time. Because they deal in music, it doesn't really seem like work.

"Music is the universal language," he said. "It's in your soul. You take it everywhere."

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