Piano shop near BayWalk for lease
By SHARON L. BOND
© St. Petersburg Times, published February 7, 2001
ST. PETERSBURG -- What once was a church, a cafeteria, a parking garage and then a shop selling pianos soon could be another entertainment venue for downtown.
The Piano Exchange, at 232 Second St. N, is for lease. Owners Bill Pendergast and Bob Barnes figure that since it is across the street from BayWalk, the Piano Exchange would be appropriate for a restaurant or entertainment venue.
Since he posted the for-lease sign, Pendergast has gotten lots of inquiries about the building, many from people interested in nightclubs or restaurants. The long, open building has 13,000 square feet, with offices to one side. From its days as a cafeteria, it has adequate water supply and drainage, plus 10 toilets and a grease trap, Pendergast said.
The Piano Exchange eventually will move to the company's warehouse on 22nd Street S.
"The value of this place for different retail would produce good income, and we would operate the wholesale business down" at the warehouse, Pendergast said.
The exchange has little direct retail traffic, he said, so it doesn't really need to be downtown.
"Most of our customers come by phone. Ninety percent of our business is wholesale," he said. Orders for the used Yamaha and Kawai pianos that the exchange reconditions come from retailers all over the country. One customer from South America buys annually.
Lack of adequate parking made it harder for retail business and troubling for deliveries at the Second Street N site, Pendergast said.
"We've had a tough time with parking. With a piano, you can't just stop and run in," he said.
Still, people do walk in off the street and try out the instruments, the majority of which are grand pianos. That sometimes brings in others who hear the music.
Gary Sterling, 25, a saxophone player who composes on the piano, sat at three different pianos Monday, improvising on his own compositions.
"I'm looking for a piano," he said. He talked to a friend on his portable phone as he played so she could hear. "She's helping me."
Pendergast said the exchange was built in 1927 as an A-frame, sawdust floor church. "Then it was a parking garage for years and the Heldt family put in a cafeteria during the war years," he said.
The building's interior has murals of tropical landscapes painted by George Snow Hill on the front and back walls and signed by Hill. He is the muralist whose work of art in City Hall was ripped down by Omali Yeshitela in 1966 after hanging 21 years. Yeshitela, then known as Joe Waller, thought the mural depicted blacks in a derogatory manner.
In 1936 Hill painted murals at the Coast Guard Station in St. Petersburg as part of a WPA project. Among the scenes were a mermaid and a scantily clad woman being rescued from a boat that was going down. In 1998 those scenes were criticized for their nudity, and questions raised about whether they should be in a workplace now inhabited by men and women.
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