Correction to This Article
The print version of this article about a closing sale at the Music Box Center after nearly 50 years in business gave an incorrect address for the store. The address is 1920 I St. NW. This version contains the correction.

D.C.'s Music Box Center closing

By Akeya Dickson
Thursday, January 7, 2010

Retire was a dirty word to Marion Lewis. She worked six days a week at the Music Box Center, a store she founded next door to her husband's music studio in the District in 1961. Lewis drove from Falls Church every day until she turned 90, when Virginia reclaimed her license. Undeterred, she began to take taxis to and from the store.

"The taxis were very expensive, but she was determined to go to work," said her daughter, Nita Coleman, 70. "It gave her a reason to get up in the morning and put on her makeup."

When Lewis's health began to decline, she advised Coleman to have a sale and sell everything in the store. The sale begins Monday, and Coleman plans to keep the store open until everything is sold. Lewis died of congestive heart failure Oct. 2.

"She was never one to make a big fuss out of anything. She was always very practical," Coleman said. "As much as I hate to close it, I have to, and I'm very sad about it. This is her legacy. So many boxes have been bringing her so much joy for years."

Coleman tried to keep the store going, but working there six days a week, taking care of her retired husband and finding time to spend with her five grandchildren was a lot to balance. So she and her brother, Paul Lewis, 68, of Akron, Ohio, decided before Christmas to close the store. "I tried to put some feelers out to sell the business but couldn't find anyone in this economic climate," she said.

The Music Box Center, which was originally on F Street near what is now Verizon Center, relocated to the garden level of 1920 I St. NW in 1999.

Paul Lewis said closing the store was a tough decision but the right thing to do.

"I worked over Christmas, and there were so many loyal customers who came in to express their sympathy. Some who'd been coming for the past 30 to 40 years," he said. "We'd been telling her to cut back and retire for years, and she didn't want to hear anything about it. She was in the store two weeks before her death."

When Marion Lewis would walk in the door, Coleman felt everything would be okay, she said. "Plus, she believed that she was going to pass the DMV test and get her license back. She studied for it, even though she would fall asleep sometimes."

Impromptu naps aside, Lewis outpaced her younger friends. She was active in oil painting, giving piano lessons, playing poker, attending Congregation Olam Tikvah, a Conservative synagogue in Falls Church, going to the ballet and opera, and visiting New York with Coleman in August.

But 18-, 36- and 72-note music box melodies were the soundtrack to her life. For nearly 50 years, she traveled to Spain, Italy, Switzerland and other locales to hunt down choice music boxes. She amassed a collection of more than 1,500 customizable boxes, lamps, bookends and other assorted musical items with 500 melodies for the store.

Lewis inherited European contacts and her penchant for retailing from her mother, who had a gift shop in Clarendon.

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