Recently, we took you inside the music shop Retrofret in Gowanus which specializes in rare and bizarre instruments. What we didn’t share with you yet is that one floor below, connected to Retrofret is an organ workshop! The shop not only repairs organs for such venerable churches as Trinity Wall Street and St. Thomas on 5th Avenue and 53rd Street, but used to build them from scratch too.
When we visited the location on 233 Butler Street, work had already completed for the day. Steve Uhrik, owner of Retrofret, told us that the workers get in extremely early and leave early. Even without people, the place seems alive. Nothing is too precious to be just lying around. Tools and supplies are left where they were used last in the workday.
The organ shop is affiliated with Retrofret because the whole business began as a musical instrument repair cooperative in the Soho. Larry Trupiano was one of the founder partners the so-called Associated Instrument Makers, along with Uhrik. This 1995 New York Times piece noted that “very few of the 400 or so organ builders in the country are in major cities,” but owner Larry Trupiano simply loves Brooklyn. “I was born in Brooklyn and haven’t had the common sense to get out,” he said. He built his first organ at 11.
Although there are woodcutting machines, most of the work is done by hand in the shop:
The Times article also notes that organ workshop (officially called Mann & Trupiano) has repaired the “world’s largest pipe organ” which is located in the former Wanamaker department store in Philadelphia (now Hecht’s), does repairs at the church of St. Mary the Virgin on West 46th Street, and built the organ at First Unitarian Church in Brooklyn Heights.