Back in the day, if you were in the market for a piano, odds are you were going to pay a visit to Ernest Philpitt to check out his selection. In fact, Ernest would not only sell you a piano – or a sax, or a Jew’s-harp, or most any other instrument – he’d sell you the sheet music you could read while playing it. Sheet music, you see, is how Ernest got his start.
S. Ernest Philpitt was born in Washington, D.C. on April 10, 1874. By the age of 11, he was actively pursuing a career in music. Not so much the playing of music, but rather the business of music. Starting at that tender age, Ernest was engaged in the buying and selling of music and musical instruments for retailers in the D.C. and Baltimore areas. His craft would take him from D.C. to Philadelphia, and eventually New York where, in 1910, he took a position as the general manager of American Music Stores, overseeing some 28 stores in over 20 cities in 19 different states.
In 1916, just six years after taking that prestigious post, Ernest would branch out on his own and purchase a sheet music store in Washington, D.C. Within a year or so, he opened a full music store in Jacksonville, Florida. He would soon add a store in Miami, another in Tampa, and still another in West Palm Beach. In 1921, he was granted the Florida distribution for Steinway pianos, and by 1925 he estimated that his annual revenues had reached three quarters of a million dollars. (That’s about $9.25 million in today’s dollars.) He incorporated the business that year, bringing in his son, Marshall Swisher Philpitt, and the name S. Ernest Philpitt & Son was born.
Ernest credited much of his success to Victrolas, those super cool old record players with the wooden cases and the horns sticking up. Ernest made music, musical instruments, and Victor records easily accessible by the masses. When it came to the business of music, it’s safe to say that Mr. Philpitt was the man.
Ernest would pass away in the early 1950’s, but not before passing a thriving business along to his son, Marshall, who in turn would pass it along to his son, Marshall Jr. The business would operate until the family dissolved it in 1980, some 50+ years after Ernest gave it its start. And it’s safe to say that the Philpitt family can credit downtown West Palm Beach with at least a portion of their success. Folks back then knew that they could buy anything from a jazz record, to a grand piano, to Majestic radios and refrigerators – from Philpitt’s. All they had to do was dial 2-3980 or stop in to visit the showroom at 210 Clematis Avenue, as it was called back then.
Yup, Philpitt’s was located in the very same space on Clematis that Pioneer Linens would subsequently take over, and ultimately stay for another 80+ years and counting.