It's All About Pianos
When Jon Vincitore looks at a piano he does not see an instrument, he sees a legacy—both his own and those of the families he serves.
Nearly eight decades after his late father started Vincitore's Hudson Valley Piano Center, Jon Vincitore carries on the family business, guiding families in the selection of pianos that may well become treasured family heirlooms.
“A piano becomes part of the family,” he asserts. “The idea of a piano being around for 50 years is normal—there is no planned obsolescence. It kills me to see a piano taken to the dump.”
Vincitore is doing his best to prevent pianos from suffering that fate. He has responded to the changing market sparked by the Covid pandemic by restoring pianos and offering a rent-to-own plan that allows families to acquire instruments with only a modest down payment and affordable monthly installments.
“I noticed a lot of people were downsizing and offering free pianos,” he said. “I feel bad about telling people to be wary of free pianos, but by the time they pay to move them and have a technician tune them and bring them up to speed, it can cost $1,000 or more—and they don’t even know if the piano will stay tuned.”
Instead, Vincitore looked at the pianos he takes in trade and saw an opportunity. “I have six or seven spinet pianos out back right now with life in them,” he said. “I am a technician so I can do the work myself. I really enjoy taking a piano that has been neglected and bringing it back. I started fixing them, cleaning up the cabinets, tuning them and offering them for $895 on a rent-to-own plan. People pay $399 up front and $39.90 for 10 months. I don’t charge interest and they get to start their kid on a piano they can trade in when they want a better one. It’s worked out well and it’s filling a need most dealers don’t meet.”
He says another aspect of his business is moving and servicing pianos in homes. He sees many legacy pianos being transferred to new locations where future generations will use them. “A lot of pianos go from mother to daughter so a grandchild can learn to play on the same piano her mother did. When that is the situation, when no one has played the piano in 10 years, I can pick it up, bring it into my shop and service it. There are things I can do in the shop I can’t do in your living room—then I take it to the daughter. It’s cheaper and more comprehensive. And it’s a joyous thing when I have it refurbished and call the family to bring it back.”
Not all pianos can be refurbished however. “That is a conversation I am careful to have,” he said. “You don’t want to throw good money after bad.” But when it is a family instrument, imbued with nostalgia, families can be reluctant to let them go.
Although it is not service he offers, he says some families opt to have their pianos converted to some other use so they still have contact with a treasured object that carries memories of a loved one. “I have personally recycled some into art projects or furniture,” he said. “You think of those beautiful old uprights. I’ve taken the plates out and cut them down. I turned one into a coat chest, have made toy chests, desks and a coffee table.”
It is doubtful that a plastic keyboard could ever carry the emotional significance of a beautiful acoustic piano but Vincitore said they are the major competition for traditional pianos today.
“We’re the dinosaur in the business,” he reported. “Most places are selling portable keyboards. But I love what I do and I have a genuine respect for the acoustic piano. When we talk about digital instruments versus acoustic, I like to make the analogy that when Fender came out with the electric guitar, it didn’t put Martin out of business.”
He sells Yamaha keyboards but doesn’t have them on the floor. “The problem is, if they are on the floor, people will want to buy them because most people don’t know what’s under the hood,” he said. “If I can have a conversation with the parents and say, ‘What is it you are trying to do? Where do you want your child to be in five years?’ it makes all the difference.”
He asserts that the 21st-century mania for instant gratification short-changes young players.
“If you already know how to play a piano, a keyboard is a blast but it doesn’t work the other way around,” he said. “The child will learn three songs with two fingers and then won’t play it again. The parents feel they have done their due diligence—they bought a keyboard, the kid didn’t use it, he just wasn’t a musician. But the kid never had a chance, and the parents don’t realize it. If they had put $895 into a rental piano and spent money for lessons, the child might have developed a skill he would enjoy for the rest of his life.”
When a customer comes into Vincitore’s, Jon Vincitore brings a lifetime of experience to bear on the purchase. “I try to consider things like the age of the player and the position the piano will have in the home. Do they want a spinet or a grand piano? When I explain it to them and let them listen, when they understand the tonal differences, it gives them permission to make the decision. After all, it’s a long-term purchase—what other purchase comes with a ten-year warranty for parts and labor?”
He said Covid brought about a sea change in the business. “Life priorities changed,” he said. “Eliminating the daily commute opened up two or three hours in the day and people wanted to get back to the piano.”
Because people were marooned in their homes and not going out as much, they started doing their preliminary shopping via the phone. “I was doing tunings in the morning and making appointments in the afternoon,” he said. “It became very efficient. I didn’t get a lot of tire kickers; I got a lot of higher-profile customers who wanted to talk to someone who knew pianos. My closing ratio skyrocketed because they came with a purpose.”
But the piano industry suffered like all other businesses when the supply chain broke down. “Factories shut down at the same time that there was an incredible surge in the piano business,” he said. “Companies couldn’t deliver. We’re still recovering from it. It takes six months or more to get pianos. It makes it a nightmare to try to stock now and decide what I will need next November.”
The Vincitore family has been figuring out that right ratio for a lot of years however. Joseph Vincitore, a Juilliard-trained veteran of World War II, opened the Poughkeepsie Music Shop in 1946 with the philosophy that music enriches everyone’s life. During his military service he was a warrant officer and conductor of the 374th Army Air Force Band. Following his discharge, in addition to running his music shop, he performed at local venues six nights a week.
The music shop has moved twice over the past 77 years and has been at its current location, 478 Main Street since 1965. His son formally took over the business in 1977 and runs it today with his sister, Marta, who serves as general business manager. Joseph Vincitore passed away at 96 years old in 2014.