Remember Audrey Hepburn nibbling on a pastry and staring into the window of Tiffany’s? That was me and the Sherman Clay store in Seattle.
I would moon over the Steinway grand pianos in the window of the Fourth Avenue store. Those black satin eight-foot beasts, not diamonds, were this girl’s best friend.
The Sherman Clay store, which opened in 1924, will close when the last piano is sold or Sept. 30, whichever comes first. Sherman Clay, a California company, has been selling pianos in Seattle since the 1880s, supporting the birth and growth of local symphonies and performing-arts groups.
The owners are getting out of the piano business. It wasn’t iTunes or Spotify that ended Sherman Clay. Sales were recovering nicely after the recession. Steinway, maker of the pianos Sherman Clay carries, wants to open its own stores and the piano maker was just acquired by Paulson & Co. for $512 million. No news on whether a Seattle store is planned.
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My parents started me on lessons at the age of 4 on a chestnut-brown upright. They lined up statues of three Chinese gods on top to watch over me. But like a character out of an Amy Tan novel, I was a hopelessly lazy student. Bach just wasn’t my bag.
When I finally learned how to play “Für Elise,” my parents bought a tiny grand piano, a Samick, a Korean-made piano we discovered at the Orange County swap meet.
My dilettante playing grew into a passion thanks to a college teacher and classmates. After moving to Seattle, a former editor cut me a deal on an old Kimball consolette in his basement.
The staff at the now-closed downtown Classical Grands store shooed me out the door like the penniless intern I was. But Sherman Clay’s salespeople humored me like I could afford a $100,000 piano. I would play grand after grand, comparing the singing treble of one against the feathery touch of another.
Some of the assembly-line pianos from Japan, Korea and China are brilliant. But a hand-built instrument from the Steinway New York factory has a soul. Each piano takes a year to build. Its touch and sound will age through the years.
When my car died, I bought an Orca pass and a used 5-foot-8 piano made by Mason & Hamlin, another storied American piano maker.
But I am still nurturing a Steinway dream. It won’t die with Sherman Clay.
Sharon Pian Chan