Pianos have been a common sight in American homes for decades. Sales have declined across the country, though, as fewer children learn to play. Asian Americans are becoming a more important customer for the industry, but will it be enough to save the piano store?
On a Wednesday afternoon in College Park Maryland, the staff at the Piano Liquidation Center is busy as usual, fixing pianos. Leading them is owner Nick Margaritas, a 40-year veteran of the industry who is worried for its future.
His store, one of the biggest in the Washington region, sells famous brands such as Steinway, Yamaha and Kawai. But it's going out of business.
Margaritas remembers back to his youth, when he says the industry was full of opportunities.
“After graduation, I put my piano into the local classified newspaper for sale and sold it to the first person who came. But I got 27 phone calls. This being 1974," said Margaritas.
He later posted another advertisement in a local newspaper: "500 pianos wanted." After that, he says, he never had to run an ad again because people started lining up to sell used pianos. Others lined up to buy them.
But things are different now.
The dog Trapper has played an important role in the piano store, allowing kids to play with him while Margaritas and his staff sell a piano to their parents. But although Trapper is still game, fewer children are coming.
But Margaritas says that while the piano industry has experienced a recession, the Asian and Asian-American market has increased dramatically.
Angelica Frude is nine-years-old. She started learnng to play three years ago with Yevgeniya Oleshkevich, who has worked as a private piano teacher since coming to the U.S. in 1991.
“Asian parents have an understanding of how important this is. They are not holding back in paying for instruments, or for lessons because they understand it’s an absolute invaluable investment in their children," said Oleshkevich.
Angelica's mother, Flora Zheng, says that as her child's skills have improved, she has become willing to buy a more expensive piano for her.
“Thinking about all the interest, time, patience and hard work Angelica put in the piano practice, we support her without any hesitance, either timewise or financially. As a parent, I will be her most loyal audience and supporter for the lifetime," said Zheng.
But the increase in sales to Asian families has not been enough to save this business, which is joining a nationwide parade of piano stores that have gone out of business. And, it's not clear yet if Asian consumers can help renew a struggling industry.