Ottawa Pianos celebrates 50 years in business

After 50 years and three generations, the Papalia family is still on top of Ottawa's piano game.

Bank Street shop has supplied pianos to Liberace and Oscar Peterson

Dick Papalia performs on a float at the Ottawa SuperEX parade in the early 1970s. His Bank Street business is celebrating its 50th anniversary. (Submitted)

After 50 years and three generations, the Papalia family is still on top of Ottawa's piano game.

Dick Papalia opened Ottawa Pianos in 1968.

Saturday night the family marked that anniversary with a concert at Centrepointe Theatre — featuring performances by the Ottawa Chamber Orchestra and Juno-nominated pianist David Jalbert.

Dick told CBC Radio's In Town and Out how he came to Canada from Italy in the 1950s and his first musical love was actually a different instrument.

"I studied [accordion] in the United States, in New York. Then I came back and opened an accordion studio," he said.

"But by 1965, the accordion business was totally dying. [So] I got involved with selling pianos."

Backstage run-in

Over the years, Papalia said he's supplied pianos to famous artists such as Liberace and Oscar Peterson.

He even once had a run-in at the National Arts Centre with a former prime minister. 

"I was backstage with [jazz pianist] Dave Brubeck, and guess who was coming backstage? Pierre Elliott Trudeau," Papalia said.

"I had the task of introducing the prime minister of Canada to Dave Brubeck."

Dick Papalia demonstrates a two-manual organ in the late 1970s, when they were quite popular. (Submitted)

The rest of the family has become increasingly involved in running the store over the years, with Papalia's daughter Carmen and granddaughter Lianna now helping out in different capacities.

Carmen Papalia told In Town and Out that she started off simply dusting the pianos, only working at the store full time after university.

"My father said to me 'Why don't you take a year off and help me out?' And I never looked back," she said.

Family business

Now the general manager, Carmen opened the store's educational division — the Yamaha Music School — in 1989.

That's where her daughter Lianna learned to play, she added.

Lianna Grace said she's started demonstrating the pianos for customers.

The high-school student is also her mother's go-to person when it comes to managing Ottawa Pianos' Instagram page — just one of many ways the piano business has changed over the past half-century.

"I'm helping out on the social media side, and sort of helping out wherever I can," she said.