Steinway selects retailer

West End gallery aims to be a destination


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West Enders can anticipate celebrity sightings in the near future, as the region's only Steinway-authorized retailer officially opens its doors on the village's main drag next week.

The Steinway Piano Gallery, at 445 S. Main St., in one of the late Arment Poliziani's two art galleries, is scheduled to hold its grand opening celebration today at 5 p.m.

When piano-playing superstars make their way to Pittsburgh and need to rehearse, the store will be a destination, said Patty Neeper, the store's president. It also will hold galas, private recitals, competitions and a series of lunch-time concerts, she said.

Ms. Neeper applied to be the region's exclusive Steinway appointee after the closing late last year of Trombino's Piano Gallerie, Downtown, where she worked for 26 years. Trombino's had been the region's exclusive Steinway dealer since 1985.

The Steinway and Sons company guards its reputation by controlling and limiting the number of dealers it appoints. There are just 60 in the country.

"You can't call Steinway and say, 'We want to represent your products,' " Ms. Neeper said. "They vetted a large number of applicants for several months before awarding us. They look at your capacity to represent the product properly, your connections in the marketplace and experience."

As the region's Steinway appointee, Ms. Neeper is responsible for marketing to the Interstate 79 corridor, from Erie to Charleston, W.Va., and as far east as Johnstown, she said.

When Trombino's reign ended with Robert Trombino's retirement late last year, there was little doubt that a Pittsburgh appointment would follow shortly. The region has among the top three concentrations of all-Steinway schools of any region in the world, according to the company.

The roster includes Carnegie Mellon University, Duquesne University, Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Seton Hill University, the High School for the Creative and Performing Arts Downtown, the Henry Mancini Arts Academy at Lincoln Park Performing Arts Center in Midland and, most recently, West Virginia University.

Dealer appointments are good for a year, and renewal is like passing a test. Steinway representatives visit the designated stores regularly to assess the representation of their product. For instance, Ms. Neeper said, "You'll see piano ads for 50 percent off? Steinway doesn't do that."

Steinway also hasn't joined the rat race. It still takes a year to make one of the pianos, and just 3,500 are produced a year. All Steinways produced in America are made in Astoria, Queens, as has been true since the 1850s.

They are considered by many to be the thoroughbred of pianos, both powerful and delicate. Each one has 12,000 parts and 40,000 pounds of tension on its strings. On the concert stage under the hands of a virtuoso its voice can move an audience to tears or to its feet, but in the quiet of a room it is easily nettled by fluctuations in temperature and humidity.

When renovating the building, Ms. Neeper said she set multiple hydrometers throughout the store to measure the relative humidity for days.

"The interesting thing about these old buildings is that the walls are so thick, the humidity remains pretty consistent. There's almost no space that you can't make right for pianos. After all, there were pianos long before there was air conditioning. But you have to keep checking it."

Although she found the new location in January and has invested about $1 million in renovation and inventory, Ms. Neeper said she expects to be in a larger building in the neighborhood by next year.

"I'd like to have more of a showroom and a bigger selection," she said.

The area for recitals and concerts is a little tight, too, with room for about 60. She would like to have space for an audience of 100 to 150 people and a restoration workshop, and she even would like to start a piano technical school someday.

The store represents the Steinway company on more levels than retail, she said.

"There are 1,500 Steinway artists on our roster, and when they come here, they almost always use the store for rehearsal space," she said, naming among them Diana Krall and Harry Connick Jr.

The Steinway Piano Gallery is also the new home of the Steinway Society of Western Pennsylvania, which sponsors a Young Artist program of concerts.

She found the West End location through her friendship with Rick Hvizdak, who manages several properties through a trust, including Artifacts, a high-end furniture and decoration business. Mr. Hvizdak said he directed her to Lou Bucci, president of the board of the West Pittsburgh Partnership, in an effort to move the West End "one more step toward our goal -- to make it a thriving little community."

Mr. Bucci said the Steinway gallery "establishes a brand level and is a great step in creating a retail corridor," of which the West Pittsburgh Partnership has site control to lease six properties. "Our master plan identified four critical locations, and one was the building Steinway is in, which is why I recruited a retailer of that caliber."

Ms. Neeper said she appreciated the symmetry between the history of the West End and the area of Queens in which Steinway & Sons established its business in America.

"They called that area of Queens Steinway Village, and it was a lumber area. This is West End Village, and it was a lumbering community, too."

It helped that there is plenty of on-street parking, some of it free for two hours, and a parking lot

"I thought, wow, this is perfect. The more I visited this neighborhood and met the people here, the more I was convinced this was the only place."


Correction/Clarification: (Published March 17, 2012) Robert Trombino did not retire when he closed his Downtown piano store, as a story Thursday about Steinway pianos indicated. He continues to operate other Trombino stores in the region.

Diana Nelson Jones: djones@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1626. Read her blog City Walkabout at www.post-gazette.com/citywalk .


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