Steinway sales bolster local retailer

Even as recession fears slow sales at high-end retailers such as Tiffany & Co., they are not muting
Rick Rowley of Clark’s Music at Clifton Park Center, with a Steinway piano in the store’s showroom Wednesday.
PHOTOGRAPHER:
Rick Rowley of Clark’s Music at Clifton Park Center, with a Steinway piano in the store’s showroom Wednesday.

Even as recession fears slow sales at high-end retailers such as Tiffany & Co., they are not muting demand for the pianos made by Steinway & Sons — a trend that bodes well for the musical instrument maker’s exclusive Northeast New York dealer, Clark Music Co.

Steinway Musical Instruments, the parent of the famed Long Island City upscale piano manufacturer, said last week it expects piano sales for 2007 to be up 10 percent over the previous year.

Although Steinway grand piano sales during the year slipped 4 percent, sales jumped 36 percent for its less expensive Boston and Essex brands.

“They’re the exception to the rest of the industry. We try selling other pianos, but they don’t have the appeal. Steinway’s almost the only act in town,” said Clark salesman Rick Rowley.

With the Steinway pianos that several upstate music institutions purchased in the 1950s and 1960s finally showing their age, a growing number of instructors and administrators are turning to the Syracuse-based Clark for replacements.

Clark last year relocated its Latham store to the Clifton Park Center. Its old location on Route 7 this month became a Keeler Motor Car Co. dealership for the smart fortwo, a tiny, two-seat European car.

Union College in Schenectady last year bought 13 new Steinway and Boston pianos from Clark. In May, Union held its “All Steinway School” dedication at its new Taylor Music Center. An even bigger sale — the largest in Clark’s 149-year history — came last year when the Crane School of Music purchased 141 Steinways.

The $3.5 million deal, which mostly replaced pianos the elite Potsdam music school bought in 1956, also made Crane an All Steinway School. It was Steinway’s largest single purchase in its 155-year history, beating the record set by the Juilliard School in New York City. Crane will hold a dedication concert for the new pianos Feb. 23.

“There’s no [other] piano in the world that would have lasted 50 years. These were 50-plus years old,” said Crane Dean Alan Solomon.

Crane traded about 135 used pianos with Clark, reducing the estimated $5 million price tag on the new Steinways. Talks for the Crane deal started in 2001. The last of three Steinway shipments arrived in Potsdam in June.

Clark had considered relocating its Latham store to a small space at Proctors’ Arcade in Schenectady. But the infusion of used Steinways from Crane made the 4,100-square-foot Clifton Park space more practical.

Between its stores in Syracuse and Clifton Park, Clark has sold about half of Crane’s used Steinways, Rowley said.

Other area institutions that have recently bought new pianos from Clark include Bethlehem Central High School, the University at Albany, the North Colonie Central School District and the Shenendehowa Central School District.

Rowley said the upswing in institutional sales is offsetting a downturn in home retail sales. Institutions account for about half of Clark’s sales, compared to about 15 percent a decade ago.

“What really happened is the retail home market just shrunk. The piano business is a victim of the culture,” Rowley said.

Steinway’s Waltham, Mass., parent said its domestic piano sales last year rose 3 percent while its European and Asian sales jumped 23 percent. The company said it anticipates challenging markets in the U.S. and western Europe this year, but growth should be strong in eastern Europe and China.

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