Doug Parsons, service manager of PianoWerkes, uses a tuning lever to tune a Yamaha piano at PianoWerkes new location at 7410 Washington NE. (Chancey Bush/Journal)
Neal Hickson says he started playing piano a little late.
He was just 13 when he started learning. Although many students start earlier, that didn’t stop Hickson from receiving a full-ride scholarship in performance piano from three universities, becoming a piano teacher, and going on to have a decades-long career in piano.
Now, Hickson co-owns PianoWerkes, a piano store that has served Albuquerque for more than a decade. And the business has grown since he started it in 2009; it recently outgrew PianoWerkes’ old showroom on Menaul, moving to a larger space on 7410 Washington NE, with AIC General Contractors developing the project.
Co-owner Neal Hickson plays a Yamaha piano in the showroom at PianoWerkes located at 7410 Washington NE. (Chancey Bush/Journal)
“What we’re looking for, mainly, was easier access to the broader New Mexico market,” Hickson said. “We’re actually the authorized dealer for all of the major brands for New Mexico, Colorado and Texas. So we’re more of a destination. So making, removing the obstacle of having to drive into the interior (of the city) was important.”
Hickson was working for Yamaha and Steinway as an arts organization fundraiser when he first visited Albuquerque with PianoWerkes co-owner Anthony “Butch” Bauske on a business trip. The fundraising job required him to travel about 30 weeks a year. Although his time in Albuquerque was supposed to be temporary, Hickson decided to put down roots.
“Anthony and I came here in 1995 for what was supposed to be a two-week consulting job,” Hickson said. “And, as it happens, we fell in love with it and wouldn’t budge. … That’s exactly why we wanted to open a piano company here.”
Hickson and Bauske partnered with Maurice Unis, owner of the piano chain Classic Pianos, and opened PianoWerkes in 2009. Classic Pianos has eight locations around the country.
Co-owner Neal Hickson plays a Yamaha piano in the showroom at PianoWerkes located at 7410 Washington NE (Chancey Bush/Journal).
“The idea of a piano store in 2009 was either brave or naive,” Hickson said. “But, you know, this is our passion.”
The new location is about 3,000 square feet larger than the previous spot on Menaul. Hickson said that in the new showroom, they can comfortably display 80 to 100 pianos; in the old location, they would “sardine” about 70 pianos into the showroom, Hickson said.
They have about 300 used and new pianos for sale. Although Hickson said they would accommodate walk-ins, the store generally schedules appointments so customers can test pianos and find their favorite sound. He said that customers usually try about five pianos before settling on an instrument.
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“What we learned is that the longer they’re here, the further away we are, the better. They really need privacy,” Hickson said. “What the goal should be is to really discover what their opinions are and what their reactions are.”
From left, Anthony “Butch” Bauske and Neal Hickson, owners of PianoWerkes, expanded to a new and larger location at 7410 Washington St. NE. (Chancey Bush/Journal)
The store has worked closely with piano teachers and arts organizations around the state.
“(Teaching) is its own art form,” Hickson said. “Knowing how to play does not mean you know how to teach at all.”
Hickson said that he’s learned a lot about New Mexico in the past 13 years of business; he said that there’s a surprising arts culture in the state.
“There’s so much more to New Mexico than the demographics would indicate on paper,” Hickson said. “I think we, you know, just crossed the finish line and are now the third-poorest state in the country. But that’s not an indication of the culture of New Mexico … Los Alamos, where you can have a mesa with more Ph.D.’s per capita, where almost every student plays piano … just culturally, it’s fascinating.”
The store is open from 11 am to 5 pm Tuesday through Saturday.