Ballard’s Marceau Pipe Organ Builders is the soul of the neighborhood and we should not forget it

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Poke around just a little bit in my Seattle neighborhood, and you will be surprised at what you discover.

That was my first impression when we stepped inside the cramped and busy workshop at Marceau Pipe Organ Builders in Ballard.

The owner, Rene Marceau, was happy to open his door and let my son and me tool around. It’s a little secrets parents know: Busy people will always invite you in and make time to talk to an inquisitive and personable little boy. 

A stack of wooden flute pipes greeted us near the entrance, salvaged from an old University of Washington practice organ damaged by water. Around a corner, tall metal trumpet pipes lined the walls. Meanwhile, the woodworking shop was abuzz with a project to build a new console for a pipe organ at Seattle’s University Lutheran Church.

Marceau is the place to go in the industry. Churches, schools and theaters from Alaska to Oregon and from Washington to Montana call on Marceau to repair, service or build their massive, ornate pipe organs, with some of the more detailed jobs taking years to complete.

Rene Marceau has seen a lot of changes in the neighborhood since he set up shop eight years ago in a small metal-sided building in Ballard’s industrial area not too far from the Ballard Bridge. Real estate prices have skyrocketed. A canyon of new apartment buildings cast shadows on nearby 17th Avenue Northwest and beyond, all to cater to the people flocking to Seattle to take jobs at Amazon or elsewhere.

Ballard has evolved into a hip – and expensive — neighborhood. But let’s hope there is still room for little specialty shops like Marceau, as well as all the small businesses that cater to the local maritime industry along the Ship Canal.

Restaurants owned by celebrity chefs will come and go. But how often will you get a chance to say you live near a cool little business that repairs and builds some of the most amazing musical instruments in the world?