40 YEARS OF OUR PIANO BUSINESS
as told by Jim Callahan
The story of Piedmont Piano Company really begins in 1956, the year I was born. In that year my parents moved west from Washington D.C. and my father, Jim Callahan Sr., joined the French Horn sections of the San Francisco Symphony and the San Francisco Opera orchestra, positions he would hold for over 25 years. At the time, the Symphony and Opera seasons combined played just a half year schedule, and to supplement his income Dad decided to learn the trade of piano tuning. He apprenticed to Peter Wolford, one of the finest tuner/technicians in the area, and established Callahan Piano Service, his part time tuning business, in 1957. The Symphony and opera seasons soon expanded to fill the year but he maintained the tuning business on a smaller scale, and as my three brothers and I grew up we became familiar with the skill of tuning and the joy of piano music. Although my piano lessons didn’t last long I played piano throughout my childhood and became fascinated by the different tones and qualities of different pianos.
A New Company
In 1978, I was completing my degree in Architecture at UC Berkeley, but still had a great love for pianos. My brother John had reestablished Callahan Piano Service and was tuning pianos full time, assisted by our brother Michael. We were often asked by customers and acquaintances for help in finding a good used piano. Dad was considering a career change and we felt between the four of us we had the skills and knowledge to create a first rate used piano business. On October 1, 1978, we rented a garage just off Piedmont Avenue in Oakland, bought an old Melville Clark upright piano, and opened for business as Piedmont Piano Company, a partnership between Jim Sr., Jim Jr., John, and Michael Callahan.
Our Early Years
We discovered immediately that there was a great demand for good used pianos in Northern California. We scoured the area for quality pianos made before World War II that we could refurbish into long lasting instruments for our ever increasing customer base. From the start we specialized in vintage Steinways, and restored and sold hundreds of these superlative uprights and grands in our early years in business. We traveled across the US and to Europe and Japan to find the finest woods, felts, parts, and supplies to restore these instruments to their highest level. The response from our customers was overwhelming: we soon became Northern California’s top dealer for quality used pianos.
A Move and Other Changes
In 1980 we moved to our first storefront location at 4260 Piedmont Ave. It was around this time my father accepted the position of personnel manager at the Symphony and assumed the role of silent partner in our family business. Shortly thereafter John and Michael left Piedmont Piano Company and were joined by our youngest brother Matt to concentrate fully on Callahan Piano Service, which was experiencing a great increase in demand for tuning, repairs, and rebuilding. Since that time Piedmont Piano Company and Callahan Piano Service have existed as separate businesses working closely together to provide the finest in pianos and piano service.
New Pianos, Lessons, and Expansion
In 1984 we had the opportunity to acquire Mills Music, the original Yamaha piano dealership in the East Bay. We had always had great respect for Yamaha and jumped at the chance to be the factory authorized dealer for these fine acoustic and digital pianos. Carrying new pianos necessitated a move to larger quarters, and in 1985 we relocated to 4382 Piedmont Ave., our location for the next 25 years. Included with the assets of Mills Music was the Yamaha Music School, and this began our role as providers of music education that continues to this day, with thousands of students of all ages having studied in our studios..
Piedmont Piano Company in the 21st Century
In 2002 we were proud to become one of the first of a very limited number of dealers in the US for Fazioli pianos, hand crafted in Italy and acclaimed as one of the the finest in the world. With the addition of these world class instruments we feel we truly have the finest selection of pianos available anywhere. In October 2008 we celebrated 30 years in business.
Concerts at the piano store
In December 2004 we opened a second location on Third Street in San Francisco’s SOMA district. It was at this venue that we began hosting student recitals for local teachers. Word soon spread that a new venue was available for performance with a wonderful ambience and the world's best pianos, and soon great jazz and classical artists were scheduling concerts at the store. As the business grew with our new location, we presented over 100 concerts in San Francisco over a three year period.
A New Home
With national economic upheaval on the horizon we made the decision to close our San Francisco location in the spring of 2008, but we immediately began searching for a new East Bay location that would accommodate our expanded inventory, growing music school, and concert series. We were thrilled to find the historic 1946 art deco California Furniture Company building available in Oakland's developing Uptown Arts & Entertainment district, and after a long negotiation and with the help of redevelopment funds and an SBA loan we were able to purchase the building in 2009. After an extensive rennovation we opened our beautiful new home in January 2010. In 2012 our neighbor the Oakland School for the Arts leased space in our building for their visual arts department, and in 2014 the offices of the wonderful local nonprofit Living Jazz relocated to our mezzanine.
As the years have passed our Uptown store has thrived and now bustles with activity. An active calendar of jazz and classical concerts, student recitals and fundraising events for a variety of local nonprofits fill many of our evenings. On our upper level hundreds of musicians teach, learn and practice each week, and our retail store is visited by families, music teachers, music students, beginners and concert artists alike, to see and play our extensive inventory of fine pianos for rent and for sale.
As we look to the future we will continue to offer the finest in pianos, rentals, and lessons to our ever increasing family of customers. Each day brings new and interesting experiences and challenges within the Bay Area music community, and we look forward to our continuing role in supporting the joy of making music.