Brian Wise covers the classical music business for WQXR, including aspects of performance, technology, philanthropy and institutional trends. He produces the Café Concerts series and the podcast/show Conducting Business. He manages the station's homepage and makes sure what you hear on air is what you see online. Follow him on Twitter at @Briancwise.
Musical Chairs on Piano Row as Klavierhaus Moves Out
Monday, March 17, 2014 - 07:00 PM
New York’s Piano Row just got smaller.
The piano dealer Klavierhaus, a favored haunt for international pianists since the 1990s, on Monday moved out of its storefront showroom on West 58th St. after a competitor, Beethoven Pianos, purchased the building and took over its space. Klavierhaus has moved to a new location several blocks away.
The real estate deal was set in motion last summer when Carl Demler, the owner of Beethoven Pianos, sold the two-story building containing his showroom for a reported $25 million to Extell Development Corporation, which was looking for more room to erect an 88-story residential skyscraper (Extell had already purchased and demolished the property next door).
Flush with cash, Demler then bought the Klavierhaus building at 211 West 58th Street for $8.65 million and soon gave the competing dealer its marching orders.
The transaction is the latest in a series of moves that signal the downsizing of the midtown piano retail district, which sits between Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center and for decades has drawn piano buyers from around the world. (Also remaining are Faust-Harrison and Allegro Pianos, a far cry from the 1980s when nearly a dozen piano businesses ruled the block.)
Beethoven Pianos will lose about 2,000 square feet when it moves to the new 4,000-square-foot storefront, a move that is expected next week. Demler notes, however, that much of his company’s restoration work is done out of a 34,000-square-foot facility in the Bronx. A fixture on Piano Row for more than 40 years, Beethoven Pianos is known for its more populist appeal and ability to attract walk-in clients.
When asked about evicting his former competitor, the Munich-born Demler showed his characteristic barbed wit. “Klavierhaus was a spiritual organization,” he said. “They weren’t interested in sales. Most of the time there was nobody in the store. Besides, they have a workshop in Yonkers.”
Over the past weekend, Klavierhaus packed up 23 pianos, office furniture and acoustical treatments from its in-store recital hall, and moved to an industrial loft building at 549 W. 52nd street, near 11th Avenue. The new space is a temporary solution, said Nicholas Russotto, Klavierhaus’s director of events.
“It’s definitely a mixed blessing,” he said. “There is a sense that not having the piano stores around is a negative and it’s inarguable that this far west doesn’t benefit from foot traffic. That being said, we have a little more room to spread out now.” Russotto estimates that 70 percent of Klavierhaus’s clients come by appointment.
Klavierhaus was started in the early 1990s by Hungarian immigrant brothers Sujatri and Gabor Reisinger, and it moved to several locations in Manhattan before settling on Piano Row in the late 1990s. The dealer caters to a high-end consumer, selling Hamburg Steinways from Germany, restored art-case European instruments, and especially Faziolis from Italy (The Greene Space at WQXR is also among its clients).
In conjunction with the move, Klavierhaus has just hired two new staffers: the husband-and-wife team of Michael and Marina Harrison, previously of Faust-Harrison.
Observers of New York’s sometimes rough-and-tumble piano trade say that storefront showrooms have been losing favor. “In general, the paradigm of a retail piano showroom has shifted and will continue to shift,” said Ronen Segev, president of Park Avenue Pianos, a Steinway dealer. “Most piano businesses rely on word-of-mouth and the Internet for advertising. After initial contact is made with the potential purchaser, appointments can be set up at any location.”
Even so, Klavierhaus has been something of a hangout for pianists. The company’s Facebook page shows artists like Emanuel Ax (right), Jonathan Biss, Richard Goode and Simone Dinnerstein visiting the store to teach, rehearse and try out instruments. Soprano Renée Fleming recorded a radio broadcast last autumn in the space’s 60-seat concert hall (the venue will be reconstructed in the new showroom).
There is also a larger sense that music businesses that have helped to define the West 50s are falling victim to a transfigured world. Patelson’s, the sheet music retailer behind Carnegie Hall, closed in 2009. Colony Records, at 54th and Broadway, shuttered in 2012. Steinway is expected to move out of Steinway Hall by the end of this year.
“It’s unfortunate,” said Russotto of Klavierhaus. “But it becomes much harder to maintain that sort of aesthetic when the real estate is so expensive.”
Updated 3/18 at 4 pm