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East Rochester, New York

Piano Works

Called the “General Motors of the piano industry,” these buildings once produced as many as 700 pianos a week. 

Now an outdoor shopping mall, this building complex in East Rochester was once the fourth largest producer of quality pianos in the United States. In the 1920s it was called the “General Motors of the piano industry,” its products used by organizations like the Metropolitan Opera in New York City.

The Piano Works (known as the Aeolian-American Piano Corporation for most of its existence) originally opened in 1905, back when the village was called Despatch. Master craftsmen produced all kinds of pianos, including baby grands and concert grands. At its height, it produced 700 pianos every week, the finest taking up to 14 months to finish.

The facility included a large woodworking plant to process the different kinds of wood used in production, including cherry, ebony, and mahogany. There was also a foundry, a powerhouse, dry kilns, and even Piano Works’s own fire department. The factory employed blind tuners to tune the pianos, since they tended to have a heightened sense of hearing.

During World War II, the factory was employed to make military aircraft parts, which helped keep it going in hard times. When the war was over, piano production would continue for another 40 years. However, the popularity of pianos declined in that time, eclipsed by the guitar with the rise of rock ‘n’ roll. Households also started to favor televisions over pianos for their major entertainment purchases in the latter part of the 20th century. And for those still buying pianos, there were cheaper options coming from outside the country.

In 1985, the piano factory closed, and the buildings that remained were turned into shops (including, appropriately, a piano shop) and office space, known as the Piano Works Mall. A smokestack on the grounds that reads AMPICO (AMerican PIano COporation) hearkens back to its factory days.