“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 had 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 had also run a piano shop on SE Belmont when he was just out of law school...before following his destiny as lawyer and judge...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 wanted 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, a fourth generation — Brian, Aaron, and Taylor — began taking a serious interest. From childhood, they’d watched their father disassemble, clean, repair and refinish pianos — in the shop, the family garage, and even in the living room. They, too, were hooked.
Four generations in the piano business
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 earlier 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 old instruments, a 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, 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 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 India. Taylor, the youngest son, while still in college, was first trained in inventory and floor arranging; also in piano moving and storage for A-Z Moving. Today he has joined the Classic team full time in selling and customer service.