St. Petersburg Times
 tampabaycom
tampabay.com
Print storySubscribe to the Times

Homes

Moving a piano? No joke

By ELIZABETH BETTENDORF
Published July 16, 2004

Gale and Ben Valente know just how to baby your baby.

That is, they know how to move a piano like nobody's business.

Baby grand. Concert grand. Antique upright. Spinet.

They hoist them (very gently) up to eight-story balconies, navigate spiral staircases, lift them into lofts, rescue them from flooded beach houses.

The Valentes move pianos for the Florida Orchestra, for Broadway shows, for the University of South Florida, the University of Tampa, for famous Russian musicians and celebrities such as Tony Dungy and Hulk Hogan (three times).

Mostly, though, they move them for ordinary people changing houses.

"Or sometimes they're just getting their floors done and need the piano moved," Gale Valente explains.

Their company, Rex Moving and Storage, a high-end moving company that packs, unpacks, arranges your furniture, even tucks your sheets on the bed, is particularly known for babying pianos.

You may have seen the special Rex piano truck, as I did one day on Verne Street in South Tampa.

"We're the best in the world, not just Florida," raves Ben Valente, 44, who estimates he has moved eight pianos a day, six days a week for 25 years.

He has moved pianos for Count Basie, Chick Corea and Helen Reddy.

He also moves lots of pipe organs, most recently a behemoth with 30-foot pipes to a church in Naples.

The St. Petersburg-based company has been in business since 1951.

The Valentes are the third owners. Ben bought the business a quarter-century ago from the second owner, his former employer.

"The owner had had a stroke and allowed Ben to pay off the business on time. We were very, very lucky," said Gale Valente, a former bartender from Tampa who learned the tricks of the moving trade from her husband.

Both Ben and Gale Valente prefer hard labor to office work. Gale packs and unpacks for clients daily. And Ben works on the piano truck.

They aren't musicians themselves, but they own three pianos, including a massive, 1887 rosewood 7-foot grand, originally in the Vinoy Hotel.

"We understand pianos," explains Gale Valente, 39. "And we respect them."

One nick on a high-polish black or white piano means a $5,000 to $6,000 repair.

A lot of the bigger companies won't touch them.

The trickier the move, the more treacherous. If the elevator is too small or the stairs too narrow, the crew is deft at using large sling-like bands and muscle power to coax pianos over balconies and through windows.

Typically, they take the piano apart, place it on a skid board and swaddle it in padding. Even the legs are padded separately.

A 7-foot concert grand can weigh 1,400 pounds.

Sometimes they need a crane.

And four guys.

Big guys.

Maybe even Spiderman.

Understand this: Moving a piano can be a spectacle of superhero proportions. Once, after they successfully hoisted a piano through a condominium balcony on St. Pete Beach, a crowd of awe-struck sunbathers stood up and applauded them.

"A lot of pianos are worth $40,000 to $50,000," Ben Valente explains.

"Their weight isn't uniform all over. Without the right equipment or right experience, they can turn over in a second."

The company employs 13 people, with several employees devoted solely to the piano truck.

The best part?

"Your piano shouldn't need tuning after we move it," Gale Valente said. "Our guys really know what they're doing."

[Last modified July 15, 2004, 14:02:16]

North of Tampa headlines

  • Country club has a new look
  • Serving up dinner with a song
  • Out & about

  • Cars
  • Mustang Mania rolls into town

  • Gardening
  • A healthy lawn needs supplements

  • Get Out!
  • Author's thriller has familiar ring

  • Homes
  • Floridians fond of flora and fauna
  • Moving a piano? No joke

  • Neighborhood report
  • Carrollwood: Campaign stop at fire house was familiar spot for Castor
  • Northdale: Breaking the news could break his neck
  • Carrollwood: Drainage project to be discussed

  • Preps
  • Track and field newcomer is a natural winner

  • Profile
  • Dancing on air
  • Back to Top

    © 2006 • All Rights Reserved • Tampa Bay Times
    490 First Avenue South • St. Petersburg, FL 33701 • 727-893-8111