A century-old Turtle Bay town house, known as the Ellen Biddle Shipman House, with 13 rooms, 3 terraces, a roof garden and views of the East River and New York Harbor, was the most expensive residential property sale of the week.
The department stores set fashion trends from the Civil War to World War I in what became known as Ladies’ Mile, which straddled Broadway in the Flatiron district. Later on, the car dealers did their haggling along Automobile Row, from Broadway in the West 50s to slightly north of Columbus Circle. The diamond dealers handle 90 percent of the diamonds that enter this country on West 47th Street.
And then there was Piano Row, on West 58th Street between Broadway and Seventh Avenue, home to a few smallish stores that some pianists found as alluring as the Paris atelier in Thad Carhart’s “The Piano Shop on the Left Bank.” Piano Row was where pianists hoped to find the perfect piano — perhaps a used one that had been rebuilt, perhaps a new one. Perhaps a Bechstein, perhaps a Yamaha, perhaps a Fazioli.
Piano Row was, and is, a fast walk from other points on a pianist’s compass, like the Steinway & Sons showroom on West 57th Street. And once, before its bankruptcies in the 1990s, Baldwin had its showroom at the end of Piano Row. In June, Steinway sold its building and plans to move out by the end of 2014. It has not said where its new showroom will be.
Lately the block has had a gap-toothed look, because buildings on the north and south sides have been demolished to make way for new ones. On Sunday, one of the piano stores will leave the little building it has long occupied.
Carl Demler, the owner of the building and the store — Beethoven Pianos — said he was selling the building to the Extell Development Corporation, which bought the building next door several years ago and has recently torn it down. He said he would hand over the keys on Monday. He also said that he expected to move Beethoven Pianos into another storefront on Piano Row but had not signed a lease.
The building he is selling was built “three years before Carnegie” — and if you wanted to get there from his front door, you could have practiced going right, walking to the end of the block, crossing Seventh Avenue, turning right again and then crossing West 57th Street to reach the famous concert hall. Mr. Demler, a soft-spoken man who seems to have a dry sense of humor, said he discovered the building 22 years ago, when it was “just a shell.”
“No plumbing, no heat, no toilet,” he said.
He did the renovations. “The business was easier,” Mr. Demler said. “Each year, the business, it’s gone down.” He paused, then said, “The real estate business seems to be doing all right.”
That prompted a question: Has he made more from the building than he has made from pianos?
“Oh, of course,” he said. “To a certain extent, this is a hobby. I was a hotel man by training. People ask, ‘How did you end up in the piano business?’ Well, we all make mistakes.”
Mr. Demler said he was working at the Plaza Hotel when a friend called about a restaurant that was for sale. The friend said he had a financial backer, Franklin National Bank. “I lost my shirt and my sports car collection,” he said. He ended up moving the two pianos from the restaurant into his apartment and hiring a piano technician to fix them.
“Soon I had nine pianos” and an employee, he said. “The guy kept working for me for years.”
Mr. Demler told stories with attention-getting openings like “One day we got a call from Leonard Bernstein’s office.” Soon Mr. Demler was moving a piano in Massachusetts that Bernstein had inherited. Mr. Demler said he not only moved it, he rebuilt it.
He talked about the time Max Roach’s wife came to buy a bench and ended up with a Louis XV Steinway grand, and the time Yoko Ono showed him three pianos that she and John Lennon had stowed in the basement of the Dakota, the apartment building on Central Park West where they lived. And then there was the Mason & Hamlin grand he said he had just rebuilt for the singer Roberta Flack.
The writer Perri Knize discovered Beethoven Pianos in 2001, when she was looking for the perfect piano, a hunt that ended with a purchase at Beethoven and a book describing the hunt, “Grand Obsession: A Piano Odyssey” (Scribner, 2008).
She said by telephone from Missoula, Mont., where she lives, that Beethoven had “the most diverse assemblage of pianos anywhere.”
“It was a very strange place,” Ms. Knize said, “unpretentious, with an amazing cast of characters from around the world. One of the guys who worked there told me it was kind of like a pirate ship: you never knew which way it was going to steer. Carl does not really care whether he makes money, and he hires people who just came out of prison. I said, ‘Why do you do that?’ and he said, ‘Because nobody else will hire them.’ The ones I heard about were hired as movers, but some of them stole the pianos.”