Don’t Fire Me, I’m The Piano Player

Feb 27, 2013

In its 112-year history, Nordstrom has become well known for its piano players who typically bang out a mix of jazz, Broadway tunes and pop from a prominent position on the main floor. The pianos, however, are slowly being phased out.

According to the Tacoma News Tribune, Juan Perez, who serenaded Tacoma Mall Nordstrom customers for 27 years, was the latest pianist laid off. Like several other locations in recent years, the store will shift to piped-in recorded music that is seen as "more modern."

Only 30 of Nordstrom’s 117 full-line stores have pianists now. Many of the newer stores never had a piano.

"It’s a store-by-store decision," a Nordstrom spokesperson told the News Tribune. "It just depends on what the store wants to do. I think the store manager, like a lot of store managers, heard from some customers that wanted a different type of experience."

A petition to rehire Mr. Perez, whose final day was Jan. 27, was started on and has gathered 750 signatures. Wrote Karen Dyers-Clement on, "Do you realize that he is the single most well known employee of your long time and generational customers? He adds something intangible that a dollar value can’t be placed on."

James Hoague of Bonney Lake, WA, added, "Only the last thing that is real and not new and cheap."

Several stories covering the exit of pianos explored whether having live music helped Nordstrom stand apart and supported its high-end positioning. Many spoke of the personal relationships many players developed with not only Nordstrom’s core women shoppers, but the bored husbands who accompanied them. Larry Petty, who tinkled the ivories at the Dallas Nordstrom for two decades until he was let go last fall, quipped to the Dallas Morning News at the time, "I like to say I entertained more husbands than the Best Little Whorehouse in Texas."

What should Nordstrom do with its piano players? Is there a way to maintain the personal connection while moderizing the ambiance?

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11 Comments on "Don’t Fire Me, I’m The Piano Player"

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Camille P. Schuster, PhD.

How does piped in music create a more modern personalized experience? Piped in music creates a just-like-everyone-else experience. Unless Nordstrom is doing anything else to create a personalized experience or to create a special ambiance, piped in music as a replacement for the live piano music just makes them like everyone else.

Ryan Mathews

I’m not sure this is even a serious question.

Presumably Nordstrom knows whether or not people like the piano players. If they do, they should keep them. If they don’t, they should go.

I personally have no opinion one way or the other, other than I believe live music of any kind is always preferable to recorded music of any kind.

The issue here really is how does a retailer successfully balance tradition and the need to stay contemporary? I don’t really think of Nordstrom as a “fashion forward” kind of retailer, so I guess they’d be safe to err on the side of tradition.

David Livingston
4 years 7 months ago

Why not just have the piano players work for tips the way street musicians do?

Kurt Seemar
Kurt Seemar
4 years 7 months ago

Change is always a difficult thing.

It seems predictable that some customers are not going to be happy with the change to remove live music from some stores. However, Nordstrom presumably knows best how to connect with the customer base they are trying to attract (not that brands do not sometimes make mistakes in this area). What seems lacking is a cohesive retention strategy to address customers dissatisfied with the change.

Kevin Graff

In a retail world begging for differentiation, piped in music is a big loser in this case. I’ve always been a fan of Nordstrom’s for many reasons, not the least of which is the exclusive shopping experience they create in part by the use of their piano players. This seems off-brand for Nordstrom.

What’s next? Eliminating the great service?

George Anderson

I’m with the live music beats canned stuff crowd. Keep the piano players, maybe even add a guitar player or vocalist, just make sure if they’re playing music from a Broadway musical that it’s from “Once,” “Rent,” etc. and not something that got its first run during the first half of the twentieth century.

Anthony Kadysewski
Anthony Kadysewski
4 years 7 months ago

Mix in a few cutting edge tunes on Piano. The Trans-Siberian Orchestra gets away with rock even on Christmas Music. Make it a Piano Bar with high-end expresso. That way we could chat with the Piano Man, sip coffee and wait for our wives! Dueling pianos with Upright vs Grand vs Player. Alternate piano with Theremin or glass armonica.

Everyone has piped in music. One would hope Nordstrom would be creative and come up with something different.

Craig Sundstrom

“Another signature element of Von Maur stores is a live pianist who performs for customers during normal business hours.” (It’s from Wikipedia, so we know it’s true.) The comparison should offer good material for a term paper somewhere. The most remarkable info from this story, I think, is that Nordstrom only has 117 full-line stores…as often as we hear them mentioned, I’d have guessed several times that number.

Shep Hyken

I defer to the experts at Nordstrom to choose if there should be a piano player (or not) at their stores. Does the piano player really help maintain a personal connection? In my mind, it is an amenity that may blend into the background. If a retailer is going to devote prime “real estate” in their stores to anything, it needs to have some type of return, either financial or emotional.

Perhaps a compromise would be to leave the piano and create an event around the musician. Perhaps it’s Saturday at 2-3, a special concert by (Fill in the blank with a local musician’s name). Or, maybe do a little connection with the community. Have some of the better high school student piano players in the area featured on weekends and special evenings. I bet that would bring a lot of parents, relatives and friends to the store. Just an idea.

Kai Clarke

Keep them. They are a small expense, and offer Nordstrom something unique that other stores do not offer. Nordstrom should be looking to keep itself distinct and separate from its competitors, not the same. The pianos are just one more step that should be retained.

justin tyme
4 years 6 months ago

They started this as a tactic against competitors when they entered various markets, and now they are trying to quietly eliminate him. Shame on Nordstrom for firing the piano man. The bottom line takes preference over a classy image.


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