Like any family that’s been in one place for a long time, the Murphys have accumulated a lot of stuff.
But it’s not like the tchotchkes in grandma’s attic.
Preparing to move its piano showroom, M. Steinert & Sons, after more than a century on Boylston Street, the family is going through a veritable time capsule of Boston music history. There are photos of performances in the store’s once majestic Steinert Hall in the early 20th century, an autographed picture of Vladimir Horowitz, old letters from the Boston Symphony Orchestra about concert piano deliveries, scrapbooks of advertising campaigns from decades past — even a rare grand piano from 1856.
“We have 120 years’ worth of things — and ‘things’ is a nice way of putting it,” said Brendan Murphy, whose family has run M. Steinert & Sons on Boylston Street for four generations. “I’m looking at a box in my office filled with printing plates, all these copper plates of old advertisements and pictures of Steinert Hall. What am I going to do with them?”
Forced to relocate temporarily as a new landlord undertakes a major renovation of its building, the Murphy family is facing the daunting task of transporting about 300 pianos, some just 300 yards across Park Square, and sifting through the records, remains, and memories of the last surviving storeroom of Boston’s Piano Row.
Also to be moved are a cast iron bell on a five-foot stand that may have once been used in a convent and a massive barrel organ now housed in a corner of the first-floor showroom. The temporary location at 20 Park Plaza is much smaller, so the Murphys are close to leasing a warehouse in South Boston to store, prep, and repair pianos.
Brendan Murphy’s grandfather’s office has been pretty much untouched since his death in the late 1980s, filled with boxes and stacks of papers and a massive safe.
“The idea is we’re downsizing,” Murphy said. “If we’re going to be paying rent at two locations, we’re not going to want to pay for storage.”
He only half-joked about calling the antique collectors featured on the television show “American Pickers” to help with the cleanout.
Moving the pianos won’t be like a wobbly rope-and-pulley silent movie trope, or as Jerome Murphy, Brendan’s uncle and the company’s treasurer, put it: “It’s not going to be the Ringling Brothers; it’s not going to be a parade of elephants going down the street.”
The task will fall to movers Steinert already contracts with for piano delivery. The retail cost of moving a single grand piano is about $400 if it doesn’t involve stairs or cranes, Brendan Murphy said. The store will get a slightly better rate.
It takes three people about 15 minutes to move a grand piano. First the legs have to be removed and the piano has to be wrapped and flipped on its side, placed on a long dolly and loaded into and strapped to the walls of a moving truck, Brendan Murphy said. The trucks can fit four grand pianos or 10 uprights.
Steinert has been running a “store closing” sale to thin out stock; a genuine Steinway & Sons starts at $63,000, but the store’s other brands have entry-level grand pianos at about $10,000. Steinert recently sold a custom-made Steinway concert grand piano with marquetry wood inlay for around $500,000.
Paul Murphy, the company’s president, anticipates the move will take about a month, and Steinert expects to open at the new location in August. Paul Murphy expects to return to the former Piano Row location after the building restoration is complete in approximately three years.
‘We have 120 years’ worth of things — and “things” is a nice way of putting it.’Brendan Murphy, M. Steinert & Sons vice president
The building’s new owner, B Minor LLC, is preparing to gut and renovate the expansive six-story building, including restoring Steinert Hall, a subterranean performance space shuttered since 1942.
B Minor owner Bill Mosakowski said he wants the piano business to return and Steinert Hall to be restored and again host performances. Current plans for the building include a mix of commercial, office, and residential use, he said.
“They’re part of the building, and they’re part of the history,” said Mosakowski, who is also chief executive of Public Consulting Group, a large advisory firm to government and public sector clients.
Paul Murphy said Steinert will likely occupy the ground-floor showroom and perhaps some upstairs office space once the building is completed.
“We’ve been invited back, and we expect to come back,” he said. “This is our address, this is our home, and we want to keep it that way.”