From ashes to Main Street, Scherer Violin Shop reopens in downtown Louisville

Famed violinist Itzhak Perlman once said “Sometimes it is the artist’s task to find out how much music you can still make with what you have left.”

The Marshall Fire called William Scherer to that task when it damaged his family’s Louisville home and all but ruined his violin making studio.

But Scherer is making music – and instruments – once again, in a little violin shop on the corner of Walnut and Main streets. The Scherer Violin Shop, specializing in repairs, sales, and rentals of violins, violas and violoncellos, opened Aug. 20.

The violin maker, or luthier, as the profession is called, and his family were out of town when their  home caught fire. A teenage neighbor who was housesitting phoned him.

“She got to our house, and she grabbed our pets,” recalled Scherer. “And in the background I can hear the police ordering people to get out; the fire is in the neighborhood, and the power is out.  And she says ‘What violins should I grab?’”

She left the house with the pets, and the precious instruments she could carry, and the fire took over. Her family’s home, however, burned down.

Scherer credits a firefighter, who “essentially babysat our house” because it was the only one left that had any hope of defending, for saving his home.

“It was really a valiant effort, and chance was on our side. Fire does weird things,” Scherer reflected.

The house was gutted to repair the heavy damage by the heat and smoke. Schrerer and his family have yet to move back in.

The instruments left behind that night are little more than vestiges of sound – blistered, brittle and infused with woodsmoke.

What Scherer could salvage is a heavy workbench he brought with him when he moved to Colorado. He sanded it and restored it after the fire, and it anchors the new shop.

“This is really the only thing in my shop here that was recoverable from the house,” said Scherer.

“I bought this in Williamsburg, Mo., from the woodworker who made it by hand, probably from all local materials. It’s got an oak base and a sycamore top,” he said running his hand on it. “It has a story.”

There’s an old-world feel that intersects the newness of the space. Antique bows share a case with state-of-the-art carbon fiber bows. An old industrial lamp is clamped to a table where a violin cradle waits.

At the store opening, Scherer said the turnout was “unbelievable.”

Scherer’s wife, Laura, and friends jammed together on the sidewalk. Jam sessions became glue for his family after the fire.

“After we moved into our rental house visitors would stop by and we’d just play music, and try to heal,” said Scherer. He catches himself. “I don’t know if the healing is happening, but for getting through it, having the music has been great and I feel lucky to have it in my life.”

The community support, from funds to food, has galvanized their love for Louisville, and when a friend let him know there was a vacancy at 844 Main Street, opening his violin shop came together in a way that further demonstrated the community supporting one another.

Formerly from Missouri, Scherer and his wife had the conversation “if a fortune teller said everything was going to pan out, that you’d be passionately doing the things you want in the world, but in the end your home is going to burn down, would we still do it?

“The community came up under us, and threw pillows at us, and gave us a soft landing. Even though we lost lots of stuff, we still wouldn’t have changed our plans,” said Scherer. “We kind of feel real happy here, in other words.

“We’re descended from people who saw worse than this. You have to show your kids that you can overcome those challenges, and keep making music, and that everything’s going to be OK.”

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