It didn’t matter that they already had an established music business. It didn’t matter that they already had a 12-year-old son. It didn’t matter that it was home. When the war broke out in Yugoslavia in 1991, Danche Ivanovic told his wife, Zdenka, “I don’t want to worry about you.” The next morning, she and their son left for Salzburg, Austria with one bag each, leaving everything behind.

“When you have to escape, you go,” Zdenka said over Hefeweizen, a German beer, in the backyard of their newly minted guitar shop on Madison Street in Forest Park. A passion and livelihood has seen them through birth, change, destruction, renewal and growth.

The air is sweet with summer. Zdenka’s fertile and healthy tomatoes are growing behind the bench. It gives the place a feeling of lushness, balancing the hard angles, precise curves, and palette of browns and tans within the shop of assorted guitars and works in progress at various stages of guitar-hood.

Leaving Yugoslavia, they thought the war would blow over, expecting to go home at some point. However, after Danche joined his family four months after they reached Salzburg, they stayed in Austria for five and a half years. Their next move would be the U.S., hardly reminiscent of home.

In Austria, their youngest son was born. Danche worked in a guitar shop in Germany and Zdenka secured work at a hospital. Slowly, factors developed that would ultimately drive the family to the next part of their journey. Strict Austrian rules were enforced, such as keeping to extremely precise limits regarding square footage per person per house. Special blue license plates for non-Austrians were deemed not only appropriate but necessary. Danche needed to cross the border every day to get to work, which led to harassment in the mornings and stress in the evenings. He would be late for work almost every day for about a year because of these morning rituals. 

Danche and Zdenka reapplied every six months for basic rights, trying to be the first in line or at least the first 40, as they were the most likely to be seen.

They lived in this way for the last year of their stay in Austria. Their eldest turned 18 and received admission to the University of California Berkeley. So the family moved to the U.S. Another cultural, financial up-rooting, and unfamiliar odyssey for the clan.

Their youngest son, Miki, adapted perhaps the easiest, learning English in three months. Zdenka cried her first year state-side. Milk upset her stomach and she would throw up, the food unfamiliar.

“Start again, and again, and again,” she said noting that the best advice also happens to be the simplest.

After several years settling into a shop on Madison Street in Oak Park, they move again. Another beginning in the heart of Forest Park, at 7232 Madison St., this one with much greater foot traffic to their unique all-encompassing guitar shop with an air of old-world charm, offering not only guitar lessons but also repairs, guitar building workshops, instruments, supplies, and performances as well as a warm sense of camaraderie.

“We reciprocate kindness,” Zdenka said.

The mayor has already visited a few times, with encouraging words. Their eyes light up with anecdotes of the patrons they have already met, finding interest in their lives and what brings them to the shop. Psychologists, artists, psychiatrists, the young, the old, the corporate, the anti-establishment, the entire spectrum of financial capability as well as a spectrum of professions come in for service.

They have paid a cost, both personal and material, to continue living the life they designed for themselves. They persevered and still have their music, their shop, and their family.

“We lost everything,” Zdenka said. “We like to help others.” They offer free lessons for children and may offer classes for retired citizens.

They waited a long time to find a permanent location. They think it might be Forest Park.

For more information on Danche Guitars, visit www.dancheguitars.com.

Wisdom from Danche

Danche Ivanovic has this advice for beginning guitar players:

"You don't need to kill yourself — 5-10 minutes, twice a day. Then three times a day. Then after a year, an hour a day. Talent is 10%; 90% is practice!"

On his lifestyle, Danche says, "It's unusual but … that's me!"

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