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Store that sold pianos to Sinatra, Bennett to shut doors

The recession hits David L. Abell Fine Pianos on Beverly Boulevard.

January 01, 2009|Margaret Wappler

Dennis Hagerty, president of Keyboard Concepts, which runs David L. Abell Fine Pianos on Beverly Boulevard, foresaw the recession about two years ago. "We always feel it first in our business," he said, adding that he's had to let go of or not replace about six employees in a company of roughly 35, and sales in each of his five stores have dipped by 20% to 40%.

But the recession, swinging into full effect this last year, really slammed the final nail into the coffin, or piano top as it were, for Hagerty's most legendary store. The ivy-covered Abell shop, which has sold pianos for nearly 54 years to a celebrity clientele including Frank Sinatra, Quincy Jones, Tony Bennett, Stevie Wonder, Elton John, Jackson Browne, Andre Previn and Ronald Reagan, is closing. All of Abell's upscale, exclusive stock -- Yamaha grands, Bosendorfers and vintage Steinways -- is on deep discount. Which is good news for anyone who's ever fantasized about shoving a baby grand into his or her apartment foyer, but bad news for those who want to uphold the romantic old guard of piano stores.

It's possible that the Abell space might reopen as another Keyboard Concepts, which has outposts in Van Nuys, Agoura Hills, Santa Monica and Tustin, but Abell's, as we know it, will be gone after the last piano is sold.

"It's sad," Hagerty said, "but making the format of the old store work has gotten tougher and tougher."

This is the place where composer John Williams once treated customers to an improv performance of Prokofiev's Third Sonata and Rock Hudson played the "Pathetique." Hagerty bought the store from his friendly competitor David L. Abell when the jazz connoisseur retired in 1999. Abell died in 2006, but during his lifetime, he helped rebuild the music department at Washington Preparatory High School and donated large sums to the UCLA jazz studies program.

Many of Abell's fine pianos are one-of-a-kind. Hagerty is reluctant to divulge exact price tags or discounts, but ballpark figures for upright pianos start at $1,800 and baby grands go for $7,500 to $20,000. Recent sales have included a Yamaha baby grand, usually around $33,000, marked down to about $16,000. And in the last week, Hagerty unloaded two Bosendorfers, which he calls the Rolls-Royces of pianos, for more than $100,000 each. But those profits were too little, too late, Hagerty said.

"The numbers seem big, but our margin has been murder."


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