The accordions live in the basement.
Stan Galli, long-time lounge lizard, one-time guest on Johnny Carson's “Tonight Show” and Omaha's last accordion repairman, tells you to watch your step.
He leads you down the stairs of his South Omaha home, flips on the light ... and before you stretches the Land of Misfit Instruments.
There are accordions that need paint and accordions that need a key unstuck and accordions that need tuning. There are brilliant blue accordions and gorgeous gold accordions and several accordions that look like they have seen their final polkas.
There is an accordion down here that was handcrafted in Austria by a man named Josef Hlavacek at some point before World War I. And there's an even older accordion down here that was probably handcrafted by Josef's older brother sometime around 1900.
Maybe 80 accordions in all, give or take, waiting for Stan Galli to repair them, if he decides to. Plus the two dozen more accordions that live upstairs on a specially built shelf in the living room that are already refurbished and for sale.
These are instruments that, like manual typewriters and horse-drawn carriages, saw their popularity peak sometime early in the 20th century. We're standing in the basement of the last man in Omaha willing to fix this instrument in the new millennium. Stan is the holdout, the throwback, the ...
“I'm trying to sell these out,” Stan says, “so that I can close.”
It turns out that time and electric guitars wait for no man, and so Stan Galli is shutting down, according to Stan, the city's last full-service accordion repair and resale business. The old polka dinosaurs are all but extinct, Stan says. The young bucks who play tejano on South 24th Street play new, cheap accordions. And how many young boys and girls write “accordion” on his or her Christmas list in 2013?
But Stan does have something left to share, something besides the 80 or so secondhand accordions he's trying to sell. He has the accordion stories.
In the beginning, Stan was a drummer. In fact, he still is. But while a high schooler in Minnesota, he hooked up with a group that called itself the Accordionaires.
The lineup: 24 accordion players and Stan the Drummer. They played classical music on the accordion. They won competitions. They toured Italy in the summer of 1967.
And when they got home, they went on Carson's “Tonight Show.” Not bad for a bunch of high schoolers from Duluth.
Galli became a career musician, a road warrior, a self-described “lounge lizard.” He hooked up with the Fabulous Links, a pair of brothers who played the accordion and the bass guitar.
The Links made most of their money in the casinos and bars around Reno, Nev. They toured 49 weeks a year. Twice a year they drove to Nebraska, where they packed the Valley View Golf Club in Fremont, the Satellite Club in Grand Island and Anthony's and Club 89 in Omaha.
Stan started his own band, imaginatively named Stan Galli and Stuff. He continued to tour through Nebraska. And when he had been a traveling musician for two decades and wanted to settle down, he wrote a letter to Johnny Swoboda, longtime proprietor of Omaha's Swoboda Music Center, and asked him for a job.
Which is how Stan Galli first came to be selling accordions in 1988. And then, when Swoboda's longtime accordion repairman retired, Galli went to a special school in Minnesota to become an accordion repairman, too. He learned how to fix the stuck keys. He learned how to fix the stuck buttons. He learned that when people brought in an accordion and said, “I think I need new bellows,” what they generally needed was a new gasket to seal their bellows.
He learned how to fix all seven types of accordions. And he learned to play the accordion, too, so he could fix them right.
He broke out on his own in 2002, after the Swoboda Music Center closed, long after it became clear that the accordion would not have a renaissance.
According to Stan did good business with the city's remaining accordion players, and Stan sold hundreds of secondhand accordions to people who needed a new one.
But he saw more and more accordions held together with duct tape, and fewer and fewer people willing to spend the hundreds of dollars that even a secondhand accordion costs. (A new one runs into the thousands.)
Stan's wife retired last year. Stan wants to concentrate on his music — he still is the bandleader of Stan Galli and Stuff, and he plays percussion in the Greg Spevak Orchestra.
Stan wants to retire, too.
“There's a repair guy in Denver,” he says, “a couple in Texas, one I know of in Chicago, a few in Minnesota and north ...”
He shrugs. What is Omaha's last accordion repairman to do?