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NYC piano rental company delivers Christmas cheer as a family

PianoPiano, a third-generation business run by the Binder family, delivers pianos for no charge each Christmas Day.

PianoPiano President Sarah Binder Mehta has worked alongside her father, Jerry Binder, for the past decade to rent out pianos on Christmas Day. (Credit: Jeff Bachner)

When the city streets are quiet as families enjoy their Christmas Day, there's a piano rental company working around the clock to deliver grands, baby grands and uprights to unwitting music lovers.

PianoPiano, a family-owned business run by a father-daughter duo, installs about five pianos of different shapes and sizes each Christmas without charging a delivery fee, bringing an extra dose of holiday spirit to homes.

During last year's holiday season, PianoPiano delivered a baby grand to an apartment in Battery Park City without realizing it was part of a man's scheme to propose to his girlfriend. Once the crew set up the piano, the customer performed a song and got down on one knee.

"It's fun for people when the doorbell rings and a piano comes through the door," Sarah Binder Mehta, the company's president, told amNewYork. "It's a great surprise for the family."

"It's something you'll never forget," Jerry Binder, her father, and the company's founder, added.

"Don't worry about it"

Installing a piano in most of the city's cramped living spaces would seem challenging, but the Binders are practiced pros.

With more than 1,000 pianos, there are baby grands under 5 feet, uprights and silent pianos (which are electronic and can be listened to through headphones), and they can all be broken down and delivered for as low as $38 a month, Binder said.

"We deliver to fifth-floor walk-ups all the time," Binder Mehta said, adding that PianoPiano has its own custom-designed piano, the Avery Bond, which they call "the apartment piano," that is easy to maneuver around smaller places and has the electronic silent option.

It's no easy feat, however. Moving just one piano requires strength (a baby grand weighs about 700 pounds) and a deep knowledge of the instrument, including where it carries its weight.

"It's all about knowing what you're doing," Binder said. "A lot of people get intimidated when it comes to delivering a piano, but we tell them, 'Don't worry about it.' "

It's not a crane and open window situation. PianoPiano helps customers select the right size piano for each space — and  it can be dismantled and put back together. 

 When PianoPiano movers wrap a baby grand piano, for example, they must remove its legs, its lyre (the pedals) and tip it on its side and lift it onto a dolly to get it out of their fifth-floor studio, which is in a midtown office building on 54th Street. That process usually takes about 20 minutes.

Then the movers, some of whom have been with the company for as many as 40 years, roll it down the sidewalk to a truck and drive it out — sometimes as far as D.C., Pittsburgh, Albany, Hartford, Conn., and points in between. 

All in the family

Every industry has its royalty — rock has Mick Jagger, food has Gordon Ramsay and the piano industry has the Binders. 

The family has been in the business for three generations. Jerry Binder's father, Benjamin Binder, started selling pianos in 1937 in his furniture store in Trenton, N.J. Growing up, Jerry helped his father sell them and opened a new shop in 1958 after the original store was destroyed  in a fire. By 1975, the new shop was the largest piano dealer in the country, which allowed Jerry Binder to open 27 locations along the East Coast,  as well as Piano Rental New York on Seventh Avenue.

"He took on every brand of piano you can imagine and he was the number one dealer for every single brand at one time or another," Binder Mehta said. "I'm not shy to say that my father is piano industry royalty." 

The company's pianos have been all over — Macy's, Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, the city's restaurants and jazz clubs and many more places.

Binder's company, which was the main dealer for Samick and Kawai pianos, switched its name to PianoPiano in 1991 because it was easier than saying "Samick Piano, Kawai Piano" every time they answered the phone.

"My mom [Judy Binder] said it was ridiculous and that we should just call it PianoPiano," Binder Mehta said. 

Working together as a family can have its challenges, but it's proven to be a passion project for all three of them.

Nowadays, while Binder Mehta, 40, and her father, 83, are busy running the rentals — managing the inventory, keeping them in pristine condition, organizing deliveries and more — the matriarch, Judy Binder, manages PianoPiano's studio upstairs.

From 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., and sometimes as late as 1 a.m., the studio plays host to both amateur and professional musicians who need a space to practice. On any given day, the sounds of trilling opera singers, concert pianists, children learning their chords or Broadway performers can be heard through the studio's halls.

PianoPiano also has monthly recitals and can help set up lessons for anyone who rents a piano.

"When you work in a family business, you bring your family dynamics with you and most of the time it's fabulous," Binder Mehta said. "It's such a joy — as my father and mother get older, I'll be able to say that I got to spend so much time with them and it feels really good to be carrying on the family business. There are not too many stories like that out there."

"Some days it's great, some days I wonder what the hell I'm doing here," Binder jokingly said about working alongside his daughter. "I'm really the luckiest man in the world. I get up in the morning and say 'thank you' every day."

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