'A very sad day:' Iconic piano store closes after more than a century

SEATTLE -- You don't have to own or even play the piano to appreciate the mark Sherman Clay & Company has made on the local music and arts community. If you've ever witnessed a performance by Pacific Northwest Ballet or listened to a concert inside Benaroya Hall, more than likely you've been touched by the music company.

But after more than 100 years supplying pianos for performances throughout the Puget Sound, a final curtain will fall on the piano dealer next month.

"It's a very sad day for us," said Tom Austin, president of the retail division for Sherman Clay. "Serving the musical needs of Seattle residents has been a privilege."

The Schwartz family, who took ownership of the San Francisco-based music company in 1960, announced plans to close their only remaining retail shop, in downtown Seattle, by the end of September. The closure will mark the end of the company's nearly 143-year run in the piano retail business.

"The family didn't have any more family members that wanted to focus on this part of the business they own," Austin said. "They made their decision to focus on other businesses."

Since taking over Sherman Clay, the Schwartz family has expanded the scope of their business to include commercial real estate, retail sales financing, and paper manufacturing - all areas the owners have decided to dedicate their time and attention to.

The Seattle location is the last of the piano retail shops to close. The San Francisco stores were bought by Steinway & Sons and closed last spring, and the Portland location closed last winter. Austin said Sherman Clay operated 60 retail stores around the country during its peak.

Four employees work at the Seattle location, but Austin said with their connections, musical knowledge, and passion for playing, he believes they will have no problem finding new positions.

Sherman Clay is not only known for selling pianos. The Seattle shop has also provided a place for local teachers and students to hold recitals, performances and conduct meetings.

Austin said in the coming weeks a successor to the company will be made, and he believes the needs of the local arts and music community will continue being served.

The store plans to hold a final sale on all its merchandise, including new and used Steinway, Boston and Essex pianos, starting mid-August.