Bob’s Piano Service perseveres after flooding leaves it homeless

May 17, 2019

While mid-March flooding chased Schmitt Music from its first-floor store and spared Schoppert’s Piano Gallery on the second floor of multitenant East 41st Street building, it submerged Bob’s Piano Service in the basement.

Luckily, the business does the majority of its work on the road, tuning pianos for schools, churches and individuals.

Two months later, however, Bob’s Piano Service remains homeless, said Scott Rogers, who owns the business with Ben Watkins.

“As of now, we’re going without a shop for the foreseeable future,” Rogers said. The owner of the building has restored the first floor but isn’t planning to seek a tenant for the basement again.

Last week, Schmitt Music turned its temporary space at 1209 W. 41st St. into its permanent location, signing a long-term lease.

Finding a replacement shop for Bob’s might be more difficult, Rogers said, because so many vacant spots are retail and the rent is higher.

The 41st Street space near Cliff Avenue had been their workshop’s home for 20 years.

Bob Schoppert started the business in the late 1960s, and Rogers became his apprentice in 1983. Watkins joined the team the following year. The two men eventually left to work in other states – Rogers in Wisconsin and Watkins in California – but when Schoppert moved to Colorado in 1990, they bought the business with Schoppert’s son, Scott.

“Eight years ago, Scott died of colon cancer, so it’s just Ben and I now.”

In addition to tuning and repairing pianos, Rogers and Watkins do restoration work.

“One of the most rewarding things we do is restoring old grand pianos,” Rogers said. “Most times, they are family heirlooms – Steinways, Baldwins that are 60 to 100 years old and have been in the family for generations. We pretty much make it a new piano inside and out. Sometimes, we just take the keyboard into the shop and then take it back to the home, but sometimes the whole piano has to come back to the shop. It can be anywhere from a three- to six-month project. … Whenever a piano came out of that shop and was returned to a customer, it was a celebration.”

Unfortunately, there were two grand pianos in the basement shop when it flooded. One was a 1936 Steinway that Rogers owned and was restoring.

“My personal piano wasn’t a family heirloom, so I was just excited about that,” he said. “It’s not the end of the world for me.”

But his heart sank with the destruction of a customer’s 6-foot Baldwin. The floodwaters lifted the piano and flipped it, leaving it upside down when they receded.

“That was the hardest phone call in my life, telling her the piano was gone,” Rogers said. He was able to find her a replacement, an early 1900s Steinway that he had restored for a dentist in Blue Earth, Minn. The man died recently, and his widow couldn’t bear to have the piano around anymore, Rogers said.

While Rogers and Watkins were able to salvage most of their tools, the loss of the pianos and parts in the shop totaled almost $30,000, which isn’t covered by insurance, Rogers said.

“It stings, but it’s just kind of the next chapter for us.”

Building owner Cindy Schoppert-Pickett is working with NAI Sioux Falls to find a tenant for the 1,700-square-foot space on the first floor.

“We’ve done all the rehab work but won’t finish it out until we know who the tenant is,” she said. “It’s perfect for retail but could be used by someone else.”

There’s also a mezzanine shop space with a sink and its own water heater that could be rented with the main floor or separately. The former Bob’s Piano Service space in the basement could be used by a tenant for storage.

Bob’s Piano Service perseveres after flooding leaves it homeless

Floodwaters submerged the basement shop of Bob’s Piano Service, destroying two grand pianos and leaving the tuning, repair and restoration business without a home.

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