Moe's Early Years
“My passion was to take pianos and make them great instruments,” says Maurice Unis, describing how he came to start Moe’s Pianos back in the mid-1970s. “I like physical work, so to maneuver a piano through a tough move, bring it back and repair it, and then deliver it and see the pleasure it can bring to a family: it was a good combination.”
In fact, Unis had grown up around pianos. His maternal grandfather, Maurice T. Schuster, a violinist and piano tuner, owned Acme Piano Company in Sellwood and played with the Portland Symphony Society for the 1937 President’s Dedication of Timberline Lodge at Mt. Hood.
Schuster loved his grandson’s interest in pianos and coached him in the selection and restoration of worthy instruments — especially vintage names of the Golden Age.
And for a brief time, Unis’s father also ran a piano shop on SE Belmont when he was just out of law school, before following his destiny as a lawyer and judge and ultimately retiring from the Oregon Supreme Court as The Honorable Richard L. Unis.
Moe’s Pianos became Portland’s most recognized name in piano sales and service in the 1980s, and Unis was often consulted by piano retailers from all across the country who valued his expertise.
Unis always claimed, about Moe’s back then and about Classic Pianos today, that “there really is no secret: just give the buyer the widest possible choice, devote yourself to customer service, and be happy to take the same piano back on a trade-up — no matter how many years down the line.”
In 1989 Unis sold Moe’s to Sherman Clay and stayed on as general manager for six years before organizing Forte Marketing Group, a national company that produces event sales for major dealers and piano manufacturers across America. Meanwhile, the fourth generation of Unis men — Brian, Aaron, and Taylor — began taking a serious interest in the piano industry. From childhood, they’d watched their father disassemble, clean, repair and refinish pianos — in the shop, in the family garage, and even in the living room. They, too, were hooked.
In 2001 Maurice Unis and his eldest son, Brian, opened Classic Pianos – next to the Aladdin Theater, at 3003 SE Milwaukie Avenue, in a historic building that had previously housed a violin maker. As soon as the shop was established, there grew up around Classic a very diverse community of piano-related businesses ― craftsmen and technicians dedicated to the restoration of fine older instruments, a reliable piano moving company, and piano teachers working out of studios that had once been part of The French School.
At the end of 2005, Classic acquired Cascade Music, Portland’s exclusive Yamaha dealership, and a Hollywood District landmark for over 40 years.
Maurice Unis closed Cascade’s business and consolidated his piano enterprise into his further-expanding Classic Pianos “campus” at the east end of the Ross Island Bridge. The expansion now also includes a newly remodeled, acoustically-enhanced, Recital Hall that occupies the space adjacent to the Aladdin Theater.
Continuing a fourth generation of dedication to the piano business, all three of the Unis sons have been involved with Classic Pianos of Portland.
Brian, Maurice’s eldest son, is head of operations, having been raised in the “piano world” all his life and trained by his father in all phases of the piano business. Aaron, the middle son, was first schooled in the piano shop after graduating from University of Oregon, then headed up Classic’s Concerts & Events Division until January 2008 when he left to take a teaching sabbatical in Taiwan. He later returned and is currently working in the accounting department. Taylor, the youngest son, while still in college, was first trained in inventory and floor arranging, and also in piano moving and storage for A-Z Moving. Today he has joined the Classic team, full time, in sales, Disklavier home installations, and customer service.
In February of 2013, when Sherman Clay / Moe’s Pianos decided to leave the Portland market, Classic Pianos was appointed as the official dealer for Steinway & Sons. “It was like a homecoming!” said Maurice. But by October of the same year, Steinway & Sons offered Classic Pianos a continuing dealer relationship on the provision that Classic would become a Steinway-only dealer.
This arrangement would have meant that Classic Pianos would no longer have been able continue to represent all of the top names like Bösendorfer, Yamaha, Schimmel, Estonia, Mason & Hamlin, and Charles R. Walter. But offering customers variety to meet their personal preferences was at the heart of their national, award-winning reputation. So after careful consideration, Maurice decided to give up the rights to an exclusive Steinway dealership at the end of 2013.
“I feel good about this decision,” Maurice said. “We deal with ‘dreamers’ — professional pianists, teachers, beginners of all ages — who want choices. Each pianist longs to find the ‘perfect piano’ that suits their particular taste and preference.” Ask what he means by “choices” and Maurice will explain it this way: “We carry pianos ranging from entry level studio and professional uprights, to heirloom-quality Bösendorfer, Yamaha, Schimmel, and Estonia grands that sell anywhere between $100,000 to over $230,000.”
Maurice concluded by saying that because of his continuing and abiding respect for Steinway & Sons instruments — especially vintage Steinways from the Golden Age of Piano Making — Classic Pianos will continue to offer elegant, restored Steinways as part of its Classic Collection.