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That piano was the heart of Hartman's

The Hartman's Piano (Photo: Charlie Feldman)

The Hartman's Piano (Photo: Charlie Feldman)

It used to be that when you walked into the Hartman’s grocery store at the corner of Bank & Somerset, the first thing you’d see was the cozy seating area arranged around the piano.

The Hartman’s Piano was a free, accessible community instrument. Usually someone would be playing it, very often an accomplished musician who couldn’t afford a piano of his or her own. The music was lovely. I blogged about it once myself (The Happiest Woman at the Grocery Store).

The Hartman’s Piano disappeared on January 5th, along with the cozy seating area. Overnight, without warning, a floral department sprung up in its place.

Now, instead of the strains of piano music welcoming you to Hartman’s and setting the mood for your visit, there’s a machine welcoming you to Hartman’s in its cold computerized voice.

Nobody knows why the piano disappeared, because Hartman’s has so far refused to answer questions or return phone calls about it. Not from individuals, nor from the media. I can only guess it was a business decision. Free accessible music doesn’t generate profits the way floral departments do. But then why did Hartman’s have the piano in the first place? What motivated them, years ago, to do something so community-minded with a small section of their store? And why have they changed their minds now?

There’s something sad about the way we lose our sense of community, bit by bit. Meaningful little things that we care about just disappear overnight and get replaced by meaningless things that are better for someone else’s bottom line. Each time, we feel a pang of loss, but we accept it because what can we do? Each time we tell ourselves it’s just one little thing we’re losing.

Maybe it IS just a piano. But a lot of us loved the Hartman’s Piano and the people who played it. And we loved the whole idea of walking into the grocery store and seeing a little old lady dancing to the music while doing her grocery shopping. And maybe, cumulatively, all these little things we’re losing add up to our sense of community, our sense of belonging, our sense of being more than just consumers.

Maybe Hartman’s didn’t realize before what an important contribution they were making to the community with that piano. I hope that the groundswell of community reaction will help them understand and appreciate it, and they will find it in their hearts to change their minds and bring the piano back.

There are several things you can do to help. Join the Facebook group, Bring Back the Hartman’s Piano. Phone Hartman’s manager Robert St-Amour (613-234-8692 ext 145) and tell him you want the piano back. Sign the online petition (you don’t have to pay anything, just skip through that donation screen). Most importantly, come to the Centretown Citizens Community Association meeting tomorrow (Tuesday) at 7:00 pm (Honeywell Room, City Hall, 110 Laurier Avenue West). CCCA will pass a motion supporting the return of the piano and community space. There will be media there, and hopefully Councilor Diane Holmes as well. A strong show of support from the community will speak volumes.

As Jenn Farr says, “This is not world peace. It’s a piano. We can get it back.”

21 comments to That piano was the heart of Hartman’s

  • XUP

    It IS sad when a little community space like this disappears, but since this isn’t some big, faceless organization and since I assume Hartmans isn’t raking in bushels of cash with this grocery store, I assume this was a necessary business decision. If it means using that space to generate enough revenue to keep the store running with a healthy profit or keeping the piano and letting the store slowly go under, wouldn’t the community agree it’s more important to keep the store open? We love our independent shops, but they have a hell of a time staying afloat with competition from big box stores and chain stores. Doing all we can to support independent business sometimes also means not expecting them to provide a free community service if it’s costing them too much to make good business sense.

  • Thanks Skylark.

    XUP, Hartman’s is part of the Your Independent Grocer chain, which means it falls under the Loblaws umbrella. I don’t think it’s in any danger of “slowly going under” since it’s the only grocery store around and therefore has a monopoly in the area.

  • I agree. The piano was far better than the current floral display – though obviously less profitable for the store.

  • I don’t believe the argument that they needed the money. The flowers aren’t anything new. They used to be crammed in with the photo stuff next to the courtesy desk on the other side of the store. Maybe they’ll sell a few more flowers having them where they are now, but I doubt if it’s significant. I think they just didn’t like having people sitting in the chairs and listening to the piano player.

  • Besides, I think they’ll sell less takeout food now that there isn’t any place to sit down and eat it. That will easily balance out any extra income from the flowers.

  • XUP

    Independent Stores are franchises though, right? Like Home Hardware? I agree that the store would have a monopoly in that area for most walk-by traffic in that community. There’s a Metro just down the road as well, though. And people with cars wouldn’t necessarily be doing all or even most of their grocery shopping there. It certainly doesn’t look like a store that’s raking in the cash — it’s always seemed kind of run-down, not enough staff, etc.

  • I’ve been reading so much info about Hartman’s that I’ve lost track of where I read this tidbit:

    Apparently Hartman’s does better than most other grocery stores. Their profit per square foot is easily double the average. If someone reading this knows more re: what I’m talking about please pipe in!

  • XUP

    Well, whether Hartman’s makes lots of money or no money the piano thing (both to get and to take it away) was some sort of business decision. I don’t understand how a community association can take a vote to overturn this guy’s business decision. He can do what he wants with his business space, right? If people don’t like the way he does business, they just boycott the place.

  • Whether Hartman’s likes it or not, they run their business within and because of a community. Rather than take an entirely confrontational approach like a boycott – where nobody wins – we’re looking for a conversation and hopefully a solution.

  • Sure let’s ram that piano back into Hartman’s.

    But we shouldn’t stop there. What about all the other downtown stores? It doesn’t have to be pianos.

    How about an accordion at the Dollarama?
    The Bay has room for a full-size pipe organ!
    For Zellers, I’m thinking a harp.

  • Dwarfie, and a marching band for Value Village!

    XUP, I’m with you on this one. Hartman’s shouldn’t be punished for having had a piano…

  • Hartman’s isn’t being punished. Hartman’s is being respectfully asked to meet with interested citizens and customers to have a conversation about bringing the piano back.

  • That’s sad that it’s gone… it’s such a unique idea. Maybe they didn’t realize how much it meant to the community.

  • XUP

    Woodsy – Actually I keep begging Value Village to install a small cafe in their stores so people can sit and take a short coffee break between obessive bouts of shopping – a violin player going from table to table might be better than a marching band in that case.

  • Julia

    I was talking with someone who used to work downtown and she said that most of the time, when someone was playing that piano, it was not someone with any talent and people used to actually complain about the noise. Add in people singing along who couldn’t carry a tune and you had a cringe-worthy situation. Maybe they could put in a juke box and/or karaoke machine? I do like the idea of a little public space where people can sit for a while. I am reading Jane Jacobs for the first time and am so far, a complete fan. Also, I have been a fan of Alexander’s “A Pattern Language” for years. If the piano was that important, it was as a symbol and maybe it could be replaced by something else.

  • Valerie, that’s exactly what I’m thinking. My guess is that they wanted to free up a bit of floor space for an expanded floral section, and they decided to remove the seating area and piano because it didn’t generate any profit and they didn’t think it would matter to anybody. Now that they realize how much it matters to people, maybe they’ll reconsider, or try to come up with an alternative solution.

    Julia, that was never my experience. The only people I ever saw playing that piano had plenty of talent. And I never heard anybody singing there. But of course it was a free and accessible community instrument, and community means everybody – so I suppose there had to be times when the playing was worse than others. Personally, I think that would add to its charm somehow. (Also, I’m pretty open-minded, but I’d vote against your karaoke idea…ya have to draw the line somewhere.)

  • Lucy

    I suspect that part of the problem with having a seating area and piano in a downtown supermarket like Hartman’s would be that homeless/street people would come in and sit down for extended periods of time. Now of course it is good to have a place for people to come in off the street occasionally, but definitely not good for business from the perspective of the store owner.

  • Kelvin

    I haven’t lived here for one year and I’m already bummed out to know that the piano’s gone. Though when it was there, my only thought about it was “WOULD SOMEONE PLEASE TUNE THAT THING!”

    Dissonant tones do not necessarily make for a more pleasant shopping experience.

  • Brad

    As much as people might have enjoyed the piano, this guy has the right to do whatever he wants with his own business. If this causes a loss to his business, maybe he’ll think again.

    This seems to speak to a lack of community centre space in Centretown more than anything…

  • […] pm | Awhile back, I was out for brunch with a group of bloggers, and someone asked me about the Hartman’s Piano. This was the piano at the Hartman’s grocery store at Bank & Somerset. For years it was […]