Trailing his fingers across the white keys of a Steinway baby grand piano, Gary Finkelstein knows the sound is perfect.
“I guarantee you that ‘Mary had a little lamb’ sounds better on a Steinway than on any other piano,” said Finkelstein, who has played piano for almost 60 years. “Even if you are horrible, you will sound less horrible on a Steinway.”
A Steinway piano is often referred to as the Ferrari of pianos. Each is hand crafted in New York or Germany and takes a year to produce. The 9-foot concert grand model D can cost upward of $200,000 to customize.
The affluent Seattle area is well known in the classical-music community with Benaroya Hall, which houses four Steinway pianos, and established music programs at the University of Washington, Cornish College and Pacific Lutheran University, Finkelstein said.
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Steinway has been working to open a new location since Sherman Clay closed its Seattle store last fall. The grand opening of the new Steinway Piano Gallery of Bellevue on Bellevue Way Northeast was April 6. Finkelstein manages the store after working at Sherman Clay piano stores in Seattle and Bellevue for 28 years.
It is the first-ever company-owned Steinway store in the Seattle region, and one of only 13 around the country.
The current location, in a strip mall between a sushi restaurant and a dry cleaner, is temporary. The company is still looking for a permanent, more upscale location, said Ron Losby, the president of Steinway & Sons, Americas, which has its headquarters and factory in New York.
“We could not be absent in the market without having some presence for people to come to, even if it is temporary,” Losby said. “The Seattle-area market is pretty hot. Bellevue is our first choice because it is affluent with a very high density of piano teachers and a very high density of Asian people, who tend to play the piano more often.”
Bellevue does have other piano stores, including Classic Piano and Northwest Piano, which sell restored and pre-owned Steinway pianos in addition to Yamaha, Bösendorfer, Schimmel, Kawai and Sauter pianos.
Steinway says the midpriced Boston and Essex pianos compete with Schimmel, Kawai and Yamaha, while used Steinway pianos are the biggest competition for new Steinway pianos because they are built to last for generations.
Used Steinways listed for sale in the Seattle area Craigslist range from a model M grand in Kirkland at Stage 7 Pianos for $20,000, to a model L grand at Northwest Piano in Bellevue for $45,000 and a private party selling a Steinway upright piano in Seattle for $15,000.
In 2013, more than 32,000 acoustic pianos were sold in the U.S., a 7 percent increase from 2009, but a 3 percent drop from the previous year when almost 33,500 pianos sold, according to The Music Trades magazine, a music industry and music industry data journal.
Steinway says it sold 1,098 concert grand model D pianos out of its New York factory in 2012, which is almost 9 percent of the grand pianos The Music Trades lists as sold in the U.S. that year.
Steinway galleries tout themselves as doing more than just sell pianos, though. They become a hub for the music community — just as the family-owned Sherman Clay was in Seattle for more than 100 years.
“They provided a venue and acted as a conduit, bringing together passionate people,” said Robin McCabe, professor of music and chair of the piano program at the University of Washington.
Although the temporary Steinway gallery holds 50 pianos, it lacks a recital room or practice rooms. When performers travel to a city for a concert, they often practice at the local Steinway store, and local musicians who may not play at Benaroya Hall appreciate having a smaller venue where they can play for each other.
Finkelstein said they are looking for a permanent location that could hold up to 100 people for recitals.
Losby explained there are typically three types of customers who purchase Steinway pianos. First, the institutional customers, such as colleges, universities and concert halls; second, serious hobbyist, parents or piano teachers; and third, people with economic affluence — those people may hardly be able to play the instrument, but want it as a great piece of art in their living room, he said.
Concert halls, universities, performers and wealthy enthusiasts can also rent a Steinway from the new gallery for special events. A 9-foot concert grand is currently rented to a local resident for a private party where George Winston, a Steinway artist, will play, Finkelstein said.
Steinway artists — 1,600 of them — strictly play Steinway pianos and include Billy Joel, Diana Krall and Harry Connick Jr. Steinway artists are not paid to play a Steinway nor do they receive a free Steinway for personal use. Nine out of 10 of concert artists chose Steinways, Finkelstein said.
Losby said the company is also looking for a second location in Seattle. He said the area has a large enough music community to open a third location in the next two or three years.
“I don’t get to the Eastside a lot,” said McCabe, the UW piano professor, and owner of a Steinway concert grand. “But, I’m going to go now that there is a Steinway store.”
Coral Garnick: 206-464-2422 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @coralgarnick