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Longtime Accordion Shop Main Squeeze Closes After Owner's Death

By Lisha Arino | January 6, 2015 2:06pm
 Main Squeeze on Essex Street has closed following the death of owner Walter Kuehr last week.
Main Squeeze Owner Walter Kuehr Passes Away
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LOWER EAST SIDE — Main Squeeze, the accordion shop on Essex Street, is closing its doors following the death of its longtime owner Walter Kuehr last week.

Workers began clearing the store Monday, just days after Kuehr passed away on Jan. 2, according to Marianne DeMarco, a former student who helped him run the store when he was away.

“He was so generous and he was so in love with music,” DeMarco said.

Kuehr, who been battling lymphoma for the past seven years, was 59 years old, according to friends. The news was first reported by The Lo-Down.

Kuehr opened the shop in 1996, where he sold new and used accordions, repaired the instruments and gave lessons, according to the store's website. He eventually became known as “the accordion guru of the Lower East Side,” said his ex-wife and close friend Claire Connors.

The shop drew squeezebox enthusiasts, curious passersby and famous musicians like Weird Al Yankovic, Sheryl Crow, Emmylou Harris and Sean Lennon, who stopped in about nine months ago, Connors said.

“Of course Walter didn’t know who he was because he didn’t give a s--t about celebrities,” she said.

During the store’s 19-year run, Kuehr also started a nine-piece Latin jazz and lounge act called The Last of the International Playboys and an 18-piece, all-female accordion group called the Main Squeeze Orchestra, according to the shop’s website. The orchestra appeared on “America’s Got Talent” in 2010, DeMarco said.

Main Squeeze Orchestra on America's Got Talent
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Kuehr, a German native, began playing accordion when he was 6 years old, according to the website. He grew up to be a musician and moved to the United States after he received a scholarship to study at Harlem’s Jazzmobile in 1988.

DeMarco and Connors remembered Kuehr as a funny, kind and generous man.

“When you met him, he made you feel like you were the only person in the room and the most special person in the room,” Connors said.

They called his passing and the store’s closure “devastating.”

“It’s truly a giant hole in the fabric of the Lower East Side. Walter was a major personality and figure down here. Everyone knew him and not having the shop there is just, it’s a devastating idea,” Connors said as she choked up.

DeMarco said the store will hold one last sale before it is cleared out on Jan. 15.

While accordions will not be for sale, customers can stop by on Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. to purchase other items inside Main Squeeze, like vinyl records, display cases and little accordion figurines from a collection Kuehr built up over the years, she said. Prices will range anywhere from 25 cents to about $30.

"We're not trying to make big bucks, it's more about folks stopping by who want a tiny memento of Main Squeeze," DeMarco said.

Friends and family will also remember Kuehr at a private memorial ceremony in NoHo, DeMarco said, but are planning to publicly celebrate his life in an event next month. Connors said they hoped to have it on Valentine’s Day.

“It was his favorite holiday,” Connors said. “He was a huge romantic.”