On a Positive Note, Pandemic Piano Sales Are Booming

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An illustration of a man playing piano for a woman in a living room.
Bay Area piano shops say they've had their busiest seasons in decades as homebound families look for new ways to connect and stay creative.  (Unitonevector/iStock)

When it comes to impulse purchases, pianos don’t usually make the cut. It’s not just the expense, which can range from several thousand dollars to the low six figures. Unlike acquiring a ukulele, harmonica or guitar, buying a piano often requires expert hauling and rearranging your furniture.

After months of intermittent lockdown, people have had plenty of time to consider the implications of procuring a piano, and many are fulfilling a long-held dream. In a development that may help reshape American culture for years to come, buying a piano has become a rite of pandemic passage almost on par with adopting a dog. The instruments are in such demand that showrooms are running low, and people are waiting months for delivery.

An unscientific survey of Bay Area piano dealers found that sales are up across the board, with surging demand for new and used instruments, both uprights and grands. In fact, 2020 was a banner year for some dealers, even after losing at least two months of business due to the initial lockdown and extremely limited showroom access ever since.

“Right about mid-May we made a U-turn, and since then we’ve done more business than ever in 40 years,” says Jim Callahan, proprietor of Oakland’s Piedmont Piano Company, who also transformed the store’s highly regarded concerts into a well-produced livestream series featuring top artists in jazz, soul and Brazilian music.

A man in a white sweater, jewelry and knit hat plays the piano.
Cuban composer Omar Sosa performs for a virtual concert shot at Piedmont Piano Company. (Scott Price)

But it’s not all good news in the piano biz. Like many showrooms, Piedmont Piano also rents out studio space for practicing—a revenue stream that disappeared with the pandemic—along with a lucrative rental service that provides instruments for concerts, weddings and corporate events. But with the spring pirouette to online sales followed by appointment-only visits for one customer at a time, Callahan has found that the pandemic has unleashed pent-up demand.


“There are all these people who have buying or learning piano somewhere on their agenda, and all of the sudden they have the time,” Callahan says. “People are stuck at home. We sold three pianos on Saturday. We’re lucky and feel very fortunate.”

Benjamin Nieves, showroom manager of Steinway & Sons San Francisco, has seen a similar surge in sales. He credits the Steinway brand’s iconic status with easing customer anxiety when it comes to purchasing a piano sight unseen after the showroom closed down in March. The store is now open via appointment, but many people prefer to schedule virtual meetings via Zoom. Sales have been so robust that the San Francisco branch sold off the entire inventory that was set aside for its now-decimated rental business.

“It got to a point where rentals filled in the gap when we’d gone through our regular inventory,” Nieves says. “We’re selling a lot of pianos. I see a lot of people going back to basics. I learned to make homemade bread. I’m not saying COVID was great, but it allowed us to concentrate on things at home. Pianos bring families together, and that’s really positive.”

The implications of thousands of newly piano-ed households offer a promising post-pandemic note. Judging by the stories of professional musicians who found their first inspiration sounding out tunes on a piano at home, the sales boom could help spark a new generation of artists. And even amid the flood of electronic entertainment, there’s nothing like a piano’s hands-on appeal.

A family of two parents and two adult children pose around their grand piano in a cozy living room.
Since getting their new piano, Clifton Linton, Jenny Linton, David Peña and Christina Peña (front to back) have a new ritual of playing music together after family dinner. (Clifton Linton)

At the Linton household in Alameda, a vintage Steinway recently purchased from Piedmont Piano Company has become the center of family life. With two adult children back at home, Jenny Linton and her husband Clif, a violinist, have found that trading in an old upright for a fabulous grand piano “changed the interest level for everyone in the house,” she says, noting the family’s new after-dinner ritual.

“I sit down to play and my son will yell ‘Music time!’ and our German shepherd will come flying into the living room from wherever she’s been and plop on a couch so she can listen,” Linton continues. “My son and daughter follow her into the room and I have an instant audience. We do a lot of ‘Name that Tune,’ lots of Tin Pan Alley and show tunes. Sometimes I play alone, and this morning I was playing when I realized my son was in the other room singing ‘Feed The Birds’ along with the music in his best Ethel Merman voice.”

Demand for pianos has been so strong that orders can take months longer than normal to fulfill. Colton Piano Gallery in San Jose closed for three months during the first phase of the lockdown. Reopening on June 6 with the requisite COVID protocols, the store surpassed 2019 numbers before the end of November. This year, “the biggest challenge is trying to get pianos,” said David Gatt, the store’s owner. “The problem is the factories overseas are running at one-third capacity because of COVID curfews.”

With hundreds of dockworkers out sick from COVID at the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, dozens of container ships are backed up waiting to unload their cargo, according to the Wall Street Journal. As certain as death and taxes, rising demand and limited supply means that piano prices will be rising. Gatt’s advice? Following that pianistic impulse today will save you money tomorrow.

“If it’s available and you want it, don’t hesitate,” he said “There’s already a 10% price increase from a German supplier. My digital pianos have been sold out since November. I’ve got 45 on back order.”