The Gist Story
The Early Years
With a $1000 loan borrowed at 32 percent interest, Ron Gist founded Gist Piano Center. Stocked with two used pianos, Gist opened for business on November 27, 1971 as a small piano repair shop on Preston Highway in Louisville. By Christmas, 1971, Gist’s sales totaled $168,000.
Two years later, Gist purchased an old Steinway Model A grand piano (one of a matching pair originally owned by the prominent Speed Family of Louisville) and rebuilt it in his shop. After some careful work, the piano was ready for rental. “After a few experiences with the Steinway in town, pianists for the Louisville Orchestra started renting the piano regularly for their performances,” said Gist. “Eventually, the Steinway people asked me why the Orchestra was renting my old A instead of Shackleton’s new Model D [concert grand].”
From there, the relationship with Steinway & Sons and Gist Piano Center developed until (in 1975) Gist Piano Center became the Authorized Steinway & Sons Representative for Kentucky and Southern Indiana.
Trials and Tribulations
On April 3, 1974, Louisville, Kentucky, was devastated by a massive F4 tornado. One of over 26 tornados to strike Kentucky during that outbreak, the Louisville twister tore the roof off of Gist’s Preston Highway shop while Ron’s wife (Amanda) and two employees were inside. Gist repaired the building, relieved that the incident caused no injuries to his family or staff.
Seven years later, Gist built a new, 14,000 square foot facility on Poplar Level Road in Louisville. The new facility lasted only six years when the Watterson Expressway expansion project forced Gist to move his shop (brick by brick) 15 feet to the North.
The building reopened in 1987 and operated for four years before an electrical fault on the second floor sparked a fire that destroyed the rebuilding shop and much of the building’s roof. Fire fighters managed to move, cover and protect most of the Steinway piano inventory, but several other instruments were damaged or destroyed in the fire. The resulting insurance battle nearly drove the company into bankruptcy.
During the late 80s, Gist decided to open a second facility in downtown Lexington, Kentucky. A much smaller store, the Lexington facility would serve as a piano outlet and a recital space for teachers in the area. During the insurance struggle resulting from the Louisville fire, however, Gist sold the Lexington building and moved his store to a temporary warehouse space near the main post office in Lexington.
The second facility remained until 2005, when the J. Peterman Company acquired the warehouse. Gist, who was renting the space, moved his store to the Palomar Shopping Center – where it remained until October of 2008.
Gist Piano Center Today
Today, Gist Piano Center operates a 14,000 square foot facility in Louisville 15 feet from its original Poplar Level and Watterson Expressway location. Within that two-story building, Gist provides piano tuning, moving, repair, refinish, restoration and rebuilding services – as well as a full retail sales space and an 70-seat recital facility. In October of 2008, Gist moved his Lexington store to a new shopping center on Harrodsburg Road, where he currently maintains a 5400 square feet retail space, lessons facility and recital hall.
In January of 2014, Ron Gist decided to pass his legacy on to a new generation. His son John, who spent his entire life growing up around the piano business, and industry veteran James Harding, formed a new partnership aimed at bringing Ron Gist's relationship-based business model to new MidWest communities. With the help of John's mother, Amanda, and some advice from Ron Gist himself, John and James now run Gist Piano Center's daily operations. Gist now employs over twenty industry professionals (most of whom tune, refinish, repair or rebuild pianos) and maintains active relationships with The Kentucky Center, The Louisville Orchestra, The University of Louisville and the Lexington Philharmonic.
On November 7, 2009, Gist Piano Center launched the new Partners in Education initiative (PIE) with a live swing piano concert featuring Steinway Artist, Judy Carmichael. “With messages of doom about state deficits and budget cuts filling the news and school music programs falling like autumn leaves all over Kentucky,” said company V.P, John Gist, “the need for greater community support for the Arts has never been more clear.”
Now the largest program of it's kind in the United States, Gist’s Nationally-Acclaimed Partners in Education Program (PIE) is a collaborative effort between the music store and area piano educators designed to enhance the teaching experience, to provide students with meaningful music memories, and to give families the information they need to make good decisions regarding their child’s piano education. Benefits to teachers and students include print music discounts, a copy of the Piano Monthly e-newsletter, free admission to concerts and workshops, backstage passes to concert events, student performance opportunities, and free access to Gist’s recital facilities in Louisville and Lexington. PIE membership is free and open to area piano teachers and their students.