Posted on

Fine Arts: Roffman provides valuable service to parents of young musicians

Sue Roffman and Naomi Bienfang operate Roffman Band Instrument Service in Charles City. (Press photo James Grob.)
Sue Roffman and Naomi Bienfang operate Roffman Band Instrument Service in Charles City. (Press photo James Grob.)
By James Grob,

Roffman Band Instrument Service might serve a “niche” market in Charles City, but it’s an important market — especially if you’re the parent of a child interested in music.

“Our goal is to get a good, solid instrument — something worthwhile — into a kid’s hands to help him or her start in band,” said owner Sue Roffman, who has operated the business at 200 North Main here in town for over three years now. 

“Our niche market is music education. We sell a lot of used instruments. We want you to have an instrument that will potentially last you for a lifetime.”

Roffman has nearly 45 years of band instrument repair experience. Her shop offers high quality, refurbished, rent-to-own instruments for those with youngsters ready to begin their musical education in school music programs.

She said she believes a business like hers is essential in Charles City, as the two biggest musical instrument retailers are 40 minutes away in opposite directions. She deals in a lot of refurbished instruments, and promises that it’s “all quality stuff.”

“We try to discourage people from going on the Internet and buying what they think looks like a flute,” she said. “For $65 you’re not going to get much, and so if you want your child to succeed in music, you’ve got to start them out with quality equipment.”

Quality instruments cost a lot of money, however. Roffman said a brand new saxophone is $2,300 this year, and a brand new wood clarinet is $1,400.

“We can put a quality used instrument in their hands for less than half that cost. We give them a year warranty, everything is rebuilt here,” she said. “That’s a lot of money, and when you’re dealing with children — children change their minds at the drop of a hat.”

Roffman said that although parents want to look at the long-term, they have to deal with the short-term realities of buying and renting an expensive musical instrument that a kid might lose interest in after a short period of time.

“Maybe they find out it’s not as fun, or that it’s hard work,” she said. “Or maybe they find other interests, and it becomes a matter of time management.”

Roffman moved the business here from Mason City in May 2015. She said when the lease was up there she was already living here, and Charles City was an ideal central location between work, friends and family.

“The Chamber did a wonderful job, and helped us get a foothold here in town,” she said, adding that the local Chamber recognized how important it was to a community to have a musical instrument business like this here.

The route to Charles City started in Postville for Roffman. After graduating high school there, she began her band instrument repair career at Western Iowa Tech in Sioux City in 1974.

Upon graduation in 1975 her first repair technician position was at West Music in Coralville. She then moved to Waterloo, working with Music Corner and Samar Music, and found herself working with West Music again when it bought out Samar in 1997.

In 2005, she took a repair tech position with Wichita Band Instruments, where she honed her skills at restoring vintage instruments. She started working for Bell Repair in Mason City in 2006, and bought the shop in 2010, changing the name to Roffman Band Instrument Service.

Roffman said the business calls on several area schools, including Osage, Clear Lake and Mason City as well as Charles City. Roffman goes out as far as Britt in one direction and New Hampton in the other.

“We offer entry-level instruments — something that’s still good quality, but isn’t going to break the bank,” Roffman said.

The business has recently expanded with a new line of acoustic guitars for sale — a market not touched before. There are also clarinet, beginner sax and oboe lessons available.

Naomi Bienfang is Roffman’s only full-time employee. She is a private music instructor and substitute band instructor, who is formerly a clarinetist with the USAF Heartland of America Band, and the United States Air Force in Europe Band, Germany, among others.

Bienfang has been teaching clarinet for more than 25 years, and coaches small ensembles and provides group sessions for clarinet sections.

“We’re just basically trying to maintain our small niche. We’re not looking to conquer the market,” Roffman said. “We’re here to help kids make music, and help adults continue to make music.”