As the family behind Bill’s Music, a retail musical instrument store in Catonsville, shared that they would be recognized and filmed for a national television show, somber news quickly followed. Bill Higgins, who established the store and kept it family-owned and operated since 1965, died a day before filming was to begin Thursday. He was 81.

Tracey Higgins Kern, Bill’s daughter, said he had health issues over the past few years that caught up with him. Kern added that her father happily dedicated much of his focus and passion to the store.

“He lived and breathed this place. If he could be anywhere in the world, he would be up at his desk,” she said. But he didn’t stay there long because he was often on the floor mingling with new customers or catching up with regulars who asked for him.

“He was a charismatic guy, and people loved him. He could sell anything to anyone. … He always said he was in the business of people,” Kern said.

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Tracey Higgins said they were surprised to hear from “World’s Greatest TV,” a series that highlights unique companies, products, travel destinations and more. Bill’s Music was chosen as the World’s Greatest Music Store for the segment. It was still filmed despite the founder’s being no longer there to celebrate the moment.

Many visitors throughout the store’s nearly 60-year history, after hearing about Higgins’ death, shared their sadness and appreciation for the pillar he and his family had been in Catonsville, in an area also known as “Music City” because of a stretch of music shops along Frederick Road.

The family shared his passing in a Facebook post and wrote: “A life so beautifully lived deserves to be remembered and we sincerely appreciate your patience as we take the time to mourn this tremendous loss.”

One Facebook user wrote, ”Mr. Bill was a local legend and for us musicians … he created a place that felt like home.”

Mike Walls still remembers the “sweet deals” he found on gear at the store while in high school and said that Higgins was always “really friendly and really helpful.” On occasion, Higgins helped young musicians finance their instruments and other equipment they needed, Walls said. The first good guitar he ever purchased, a red Epiphone SG Classic, was from Bill’s Music nearly 20 years ago.

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Walls added that if it weren’t for the things he bought at an affordable price from people who cared at Bill’s Music, he likely wouldn’t be leading a life in arts and entertainment today.

The beginnings of Bill’s Music, once known as Bill’s Music House, were humble. Higgins, born and raised in Catonsville, went door to door offering guitar lessons until he established a roster of students. He and his wife, Nancy, rented an 8-by-8 room on Frederick Road to offer music lessons. They later bought more space and started selling accessories and a few instruments. Bill also performed in a band while operating the store.

Today, the store is in a whopping 36,000-square-foot-building, housing at least 2,000 guitars at any given time, and is one of the largest music retailers on the East Coast, according to Kern. Bill’s Music is a one-stop shop for trading in gear, music lessons and rentals. The store also offers an instrument repair facility on-site, sound consultations, band rehearsal space and mobile bandstands.

Since the pandemic, Bill sat out of the day-to-day operations of the store and left it in the hands of his three adult children: Kern, Brian Higgins and Jamie Higgins Reese. Kern’s been working in the store since she was 13 answering phones, and it’s the only job she’s ever had. Though music was one of Bill’s main loves, she said, he also “fiercely loved his family,” liked boating, classic cars, motorcycles and even got his pilot’s license for solo flying.

Bill’s Music will be closed Feb. 17 through Feb. 20. Family and friends are invited to gather at Candle Light Funeral Home in Catonsville on Sunday, Feb. 18, from noon to 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. There will also be a memorial gathering at the same location on Monday, Feb. 19, from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. with a service to follow.

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This story has been updated with the full name of Tracey Higgins Kern.