Elderly Instruments

A family-owned business that focuses on cultivating community and musical instruments turns to MEDC for help


Elderly Instruments was founded by Stan Werbin and Sharon Burton in a modest basement in East Lansing in 1972. They wanted to promote a fusion of community and the timeless charm of vintage and used musical instruments, launching their own catalog in 1975 and shipping worldwide. As the 1980s dawned, Elderly Instruments experienced a growth spurt, propelling them to seek a more expansive haven in Old Town Lansing. This move wasn't just a change in location—it was where the heart of Elderly Instruments found its permanent rhythm. It was also during this era of expansion that Sharon stepped away, leaving a legacy of passion and drive. The digital boom of the '90s saw Elderly Instruments embrace the internet, broadening their reach.

In 2014, Lillian Werbin, the current chief executive officer and daughter of Stan Werbin, joined Elderly Instruments. She worked in sales, marketing, and shipping before stepping up to guide the talented team as a second-generation business owner in 2017.  With a visionary eye and a deep-rooted connection to the store's legacy, Lillian embarked on a mission to revitalize the business and translate the tangible warmth of their renowned showroom into a more meaningful digital experience.


“Reaching out to the Michigan Small Business Development Center was a move fueled by our dream to bring Elderly Instruments into the modern age with the same heart and soul that has defined us since 1972.” said Lillian Werbin, CEO, “The guidance we received from SBDC wasn’t just advice—it was a roadmap that enabled us to pinpoint and fortify key aspects of our business. They helped us weave our rich history with the latest tech, fine-tune how we operate, and sharpen our financial prowess. Their expertise was a guiding light through the maze of possibilities, making sure Elderly Instruments remained a cherished beacon for musicians everywhere while stepping confidently into tomorrow.”

The global pandemic posed unprecedented challenges for Elderly Instruments as it dismantled traditional business models, leaving Elderly Instruments without a playbook. Elderly Instruments pushed through with resilience, a value that is central to their organizational culture. The company swiftly adapted by initiating curbside pickups, enforcing staggered shifts, boosting safety measures, and even creating a UV sanitization room for instrument disinfection. A strategic overhaul of their marketing and digital presence helped maintain authenticity and relevance, steering clear of the generic messaging prevalent at the time. The transition to a browser-based operational system and enhanced internal communication via third-party applications played a crucial role in keeping the company afloat and interconnected.

This challenging phase was instrumental in shaping Lillian Werbin's leadership style centered on empathy and a resolute adherence to the company's core values of knowledge, community, authenticity, enthusiasm, resilience, and a results-oriented approach. Through creative solutions and a deep commitment to their community, Elderly Instruments successfully weathered the storm of the pandemic, emerging as a stronger, more cohesive entity.

elderly2_500x750.jpgFor aspiring business owners, Lillian advises them “to embrace the power of community and commit to delivering truly excellent service in every aspect of your business.” She explains that her team’s successes are deeply rooted in the connections they have built within her team and with their customers, emphasizing the importance of cultivating relationships with trust, respect, and a shared passion. This all contributes to providing exceptional service that transforms customers into loyal advocates for the company. 

The story of Elderly Instruments is a symphony of passion, resilience, and innovation. As they look forward to furthering their legacy, their partnership with the MEDC stands as a testament to the transformative power of music, community, and the enduring spirit of entrepreneurship in Michigan.

Moving forward, Elderly Instruments hopes to continue investing in its core values – knowledge, community, authenticity, enthusiasm, resilience, and a results-oriented approach. Elderly Instruments plans to continue working with the MEDC to further the company’s innovation and growth, as well as dedication to the greater music community and the company’s own traditions. 

Elderly Instruments has been named a 2024 Michigan 50 Companies to Watch by Michigan Celebrates Small Business, the largest small business award program in the state of Michigan. Lillian and her team will be honored and recognized during the annual Awards Gala held in May during Small Business Month, joining one of the most prestigious cohorts of small businesses in the nation.

Old Town Lansing was named a Michigan Main Street community in 2006, a program committed to creating high-quality places and building stronger communities through preservation-based economic development.

In October 2023, Elderly Instruments was named America’s Top Small Business by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, winning the designation over 15,000 other applicants. With the announcement, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce said the “music store embodies the innovation, resilience, and growth mindset of American entrepreneurship.” 


Learn more about the small business services and resources available from the MEDC.