ST. MARYS – If you’ve caught a local high school (musical) performance lately or attended your child’s recital, chances are Fred and Marie Fritz have been behind the scenes making sure the instruments used are hitting the perfect pitch.
The St. Marys couple owns Fritz Pianos and Organs, a family business that began with Fred’s father, the late Hal Fritz, and also included Fred's brother, the late Frank Fritz, who managed the business's DuBois store until his death nine years ago.
Fred said it’s hard for him to imagine doing something else.
“My whole life, that’s all I’ve done, since high school-- since before high school,” Fred said. “I believe it's been 64 years we've been in business now, since 1948. I myself have been tuning pianos going on 42 years."
While Fred has all of the qualifications—he’s gone to piano-tuning school, taken music lessons, and has the special ear needed to put any instrument in order-- he prefers to be behind the scenes rather than onstage.
“I’m the only one out of four kids that didn’t play and I’m the only one in the music business [now],” Fred said.
“He did have a musical background. He had lessons. He was born and raised with music. He has that training to tune,” Marie said. “And his job in the business had always been in sales and mostly in service. And with the passing of his dad and his brother, it’s just left him to do all of the above.”
Whenever Fred tunes a piano, he records his name and the date in it.
“He’s tuned the same piano on Good Friday for the last 30 years,” Marie said. “It’s their standing date.”
Fred said one owner in Emporium doesn’t get tuning regularly, but when Fred gets the call he is happy to oblige.
“I started looking at the dates [in that piano] and my father tuned it in 1948, and I’ve been tuning it since 1971,” Fred said.
Like shopkeepers of old, the Fritzes live above the business. While sometimes it rings one time too many while they're sitting down to supper, they said it works out well.
“I grew up with it, and I think it's so much easier to take care of a customer and I can still be at home," Fred said.
Even with people calling in at random hours every day of the year—there have been emergency calls on Christmas, New Year’s Day, and other holidays---Fred said he enjoys interacting with people.
"I guess what I like is to meet different people and I get to be in different homes, tuning pianos, doing service calls and meeting a lot of different people... in the store, also,” Fred said.
He often gets last-minute calls to tune a piano prior to a performance and said in his experience, the saxophone is the most difficult instrument to repair.
Fred said the most interesting instrument he has ever personally worked on was “probably the Steinway concert grand No. 500,000. Explaining that prominent manufacturers usually do something special with landmark instruments produced, he said the Steinway was on tour in the area.
“The whole piano was laser-etched with signatures of people who over the years played a Steinway piano,” Fred said. “Roger Miller—he had it on tour. They said the worth on it was $500,000. I think it’s in the Smithsonian now.”
Fred and Marie say they enjoy almost every type of music.
“I like everything. I really do. I always have music playing,” Marie said.
The couple recently made the difficult decision to close their showroom in the DuBois Mall after 36 years there.
He [my brother Frank] passed away nine years ago, and I didn't feel comfortable closing the store at that time,” Fred said.
But with the changing times, changes needed to be made, he said.
“Our lease was up. Traffic in the mall is down. The industry is changing, and we felt that we could compete in the industry better without the overhead of the mall store,” Fred said.
One way the industry is changing is an increase in the online purchase of instruments, from piccolos to pianos, Marie said. She said when investing in an instrument, it's important for people to touch or hold it, listen to the sound, and see if it feels like "theirs," something that can be hard to do when buying online.
“Internet shopping is really hurting small retail businesses,” Marie said. "People, they're looking at the dollars, and we have a lot of people bring their internet instruments in, and they're not what they wanted and they need repaired, and they paid the wrong price. When you're buying like that, you're buying sight unseen.”
“If I sell it, I’ll go to it,” Fred said, explaining that he travels to area counties to maintenance instruments.
"The closing of the mall has not changed Fred’s service work or what he continues to do. We feel like we offer very good service to our customers,” Marie said. “Once they buy their instrument here, we're with them for the life of the instrument. And that could be a guitar, a violin, it could be a band instrument or a piano. The name is ‘pianos and organs,’ but we are a full-service music store.”
Pick up a copy of the Wednesday, June 27, 2012 edition of The Ridgway Record for more.