Kurt Saphir Pianos: From Vienna to Wilmette in Seven Generations
Kurt Saphir Pianos has hit the right notes for over a century.
Forty years spent serving musicians on the North Shore is nothing to sneeze at. Yet it’s just a few pages in the extensive history of Kurt Saphir Pianos.
The Wilmette business, which sells and services pianos, has been family owned and operated for six generations since it was founded in Vienna, Austria sometime during the early 1800s.
Current President Dennis Saphir, son of the business’s namesake, Kurt Saphir, said his father dedicated his life to running the business.
“He was here until the day he died,” Dennis said of his father, who passed away on Memorial Day, 2011.
Though the piano company was founded in Europe, Kurt Saphir brought his knowledge of musical instruments to the U.S. during World War II, when he took his piano business across the Atlantic and opened a store on Chicago’s South Side.
Later, he opened a second store in Wilmette, which was originally located on Greenleaf Avenue. Three additional Chicagoland stores followed before the businesses were consolidated into a single location, boasting a 25,000-square-foot instrument showroom, at the store’s current home, 123 Greenbay Rd.
Dennis, his wife Deanna, and one instrument technician work at their store location. Another four piano technicians work in the field, where they help keep pianos in tune from Indiana to Milwaukee.
Still, almost 90 percent of the business’s service calls are within the North Shore, Dennis said. Most pianos need adjustments at least twice a year, Dennis revealed, stating that the instruments are most in need “when the heat goes on and when the heat goes off.”
Whether the business will continue to remain in the family is unclear.
One of Dennis’s sons, Dan, has worked for the company, becoming an experienced piano technician, but has since enrolled in pharmacy school. Dennis noted that in today’s volatile economy, it is good to have multiple skills.
“It’s not the business that it used to be,” Dennis said of piano service and retailing.
Dennis said that he loves working in Wilmette, adding that he is now seeing the next generation of Saphir Pianos customers, some of whom have inherited their family’s piano, which Saphir technicians have been tuning for decades.
“When my father and grandfather tuned pianos, starting the 1950s, they put their signature and date inside the piano,” Dennis said.
He said that occasionally when he tunes a piano, he will notice their signatures on the inside of an instrument.
“You know, when I see that,” Dennis said,” I feel like my Dad is watching me.”