US Piano Stores Forced To Close As recession Change Take Its Toll
The piano has been the staple of family homes for generations, but cultural shifts and the recession have seen sales plunge in the United States.
The owners of many piano stores are under pressure as the traditional acoustic piano falls out of favour.
Nick Margaritas’s store is going out of business.
The bright yellow liquidation sign on his store can be seen for hundreds of metres down the road.
Ironically, the 74-year-old originally named his business the Piano Liquidation Centre, hoping people would believe they were getting a good deal.
Now they truly are, because everything must go at prices well below what Mr Margaritas hoped to sell them for.
“A hundred years ago they were producing and consuming 350,000 pianos a year in America,” he said as he walked past dozens of gleaming pianos.
“Today it’s down by 90 per cent. The manufacturers are producing and selling about 35,000 acoustic pianos.”
Over the years the piano has been a cherished piece of the family home, the focal point for gatherings and sing-alongs.
But changing technology and cultural and economic shifts have had a big impact.
Children have been distracted by smart phones and iPads and sport.
Why learn the piano when you can make a phone sound like an instrument at the touch of a finger?
New pianos are not cheap, with a simple upright averaging $10,000.
Sales began to drop in the US after the 2008 recession and while the economy has improved, the desire for a new piano has not.
Mr Margaritas said about 100,000 digital and electronic keyboards are sold each year in the US, but the traditional piano store selling brand new acoustics is becoming a thing of the past.
“This is part of the new generation of children and something we just have to accept,” he said.
“As a businessperson I have to find out where I fit.”
Acoustic Pianos ‘work on the imagination’ Of Students
His business was one of the biggest on the US’s east coast and Mr Margaritas is not ready to give up entirely.
He is convinced there is still a market in refurbishing late-model used pianos and he will keep staff working on maintaining and selling the pre-owned versions.
Piano technician Ian Fairweather, said a good, well cared-for piano could last between 60 and 80 years.
“There are very few things that you’d buy today that you’d hand down to your grandchildren,” he said.
There is only anecdotal evidence about the number of children learning piano, with suggestions it is also falling.
But Martin Labazevitch, who teaches at the Levine School of Music in Washington, said he has never been busier.
When some parents quietly confess to him they only have an electronic keyboard at home for their child to practice on, Mr Labazevitch reassures them it is OK.
“For the beginners, yes,” he said.
“Later on you need to feel, you need to work on the imagination of the student.
“This work can only be done on the acoustic piano.”
The decline in piano sales has also been noticed across the western world, but not in China, where piano sales are booming.
Interestingly, while the export trade is large, most of the pianos are bought for domestic use in China.
Mr Margaritas said China is where the future lies.
“For the big picture the answer is China,” he said.
“China is and will continue to be the number one producer and consumer of pianos in the world.”
The new wealthy elites in China view a big piano as a status symbol, even if house sizes are comparatively smaller than in the US.
There is no sign of the trend changing in the US, but Mr Margaritas is hopeful he can find a way to turn this tale into a happier tune.