(May 5, 2017) Blind since birth, Thomas Solich often walks around piano showrooms checking out Yamaha Grands, baby grands and uprights.
He’s a concert pianist with extensive knowledge of the latest acoustic and digital piano technology – and nothing seems to excite him more than sharing his expertise.
In a digital age filled with so many distractions, not to mention a time when retail piano stores are few and far between, Solich, 33, continues to go against the grain. Something he’s done since he was a small child.
Lately, he’s been spending a lot of time at his newest piano store in Woodmere, Solich Piano on Chagrin Boulevard near Eton Square shopping center.
While only a handful of piano stores remain in the area, Solich just opened a new store filled with about 60 pianos. Solich Piano is the exclusive Yamaha and Bosendorfer piano dealer for Northeastern Ohio.
“I have always wanted to be a Yamaha dealer,” said Solich who also owns piano stores in Boardman and Columbus. “The company offers the best instruments for every level of consumer interest, and in every category — from highly- affordable, entry-level models to the finest concert grand pianos.”
Solich chalks up much of his success to a growing market of active seniors either learning to play the piano for the first time or revisiting the instrument now that they have time. But he says young people are just as interested because pianos range from traditional to ones that include the latest technologies, such as a small touch screen inserted that can be connected to a computer monitor.
“The piano is over 300 years old, but what is so amazing is that Yamaha and Solich are making it possible to interact in ways that don’t intimidate people,” he said. “Everyone can have a different interaction. Dad can wirelessly communicate with the piano. Parents can interact with it as an entertainment piece, and it integrates into home audio pieces.
“Kids can interact with the piano to get in-home help with their piano instruction,” Solich said. “So these kids are taking piano for the first time … Doctors in their 30s and 40s are taking piano lessons for the first time for stress reduction.”
Virginia Poirer, 74, of Chagrin Falls is a retired physician who recently visited Solich Piano.
“I started playing at age 6, and I took a long hiatus,” she said, while checking out various pianos, and playing on several of them. “I even took up bagpipes for five years. But now I’m in the market to buy a piano. I’m a retired physician, so I never had much time to play for most of my life. I’m ready now.”
Another shopper, Marie Calabrese, 46, of Mayfield Village, said she’s in the market to buy a piano for the first time in a decade, when she got rid of the piano she played while growing up.
“I’ve wanted to replace it since the moving truck took it away,” she said.
While checking out a technologically advanced piano priced at nearly $20,000, she said: “This is certainly different than the player piano I grew up with.”
Stores, like Solich, dedicated to selling pianos are dwindling across the country as fewer people take up the instrument and those who do often opt for a less expensive electronic keyboard or a used piano. Some blame computers and others note the high cost of new pianos, but what’s clear is that a long-term decline in sales has accelerated.
But you would never know that by talking to Solich. He’s pumped about the piano industry. His new store makes it cool and fun to be in the market for a piano.
“Most piano store owners are in their 60’s or 70’s, for whatever reason, and they don’t have succession plans,” he said. “And they often say to me, that it’s hard to get people interested in piano the way they were even 10 years ago, because people are distracted with so much technology.
“My answer to that is, if they’re distracted with technology, then let’s get them interested in piano by equipping them with the technology that they’re comfortable with,” he said. “We read books today on iPads and Kindles. I get it. My wife is a traditionalist. She’s a librarian who prefers to hold a book. But a lot of people are now reading books electronically, so why shouldn’t our pianos become that way as well. And if they do, all of a sudden you got way more people interested in the piano than you could ever imagine.”
Solich said part of the problem is that his competitors are older and not comfortable with technology. That’s why many don’t often include technologically advanced pianos in their showrooms.
“If you want to know why there are so many fewer piano stores than there were 10 years ago, I think it has to do with the dealer principles having gotten older and more and more behind the times,” he said.