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Blawnox store adapts to the changing times

| Monday, March 5, 2018, 11:00 p.m.
Justin, father Bob and Jason Sarra inside their music store in Blawnox.
Sharon Drake | For the Tribune-Review
Justin, father Bob and Jason Sarra inside their music store in Blawnox.

Change has been part of the business model for decades at the blue building sporting a Pianos N Stuff sign above its door in downtown Blawnox.

One of the more glaring examples is that the business founded by Bob Sarra in Aspinwall 50 years ago dropped “pianos” from its name — despite what the building facade says — as a nod to its growing online trade.

“Internet buyers aren't looking for a place that starts with ‘piano,' ” said Jason Sarra, 46, who with his brother, Justin, 39, run the business with their dad.

The boys grew up doing the grunt work of dusting and housekeeping while dad ran the store during the day and was a professional musician at night. After stints working as guitarists, they came back to help grow the family business.

Now, the focus at N Stuff Music — which won the national music excellence award from the Musical Merchandise Review and was named the best music store in Pittsburgh by the City Paper — is all the “stuff.” You can order just about anything online — drum kits, keyboards, basses, guitars and gear such as microphones and amps.

Inside the store, guitars — new and reconditioned — dominate the three floors of the building that Bob Sarra moved into in 1975. Other string instruments, such as mandolins, banjos and ukuleles, are sprinkled in among the rich wood tones and polished finishes of the guitars. Special guitars, some a century old, rest in display cases.

On the second floor is a gift shop selling T-shirts, toys and other items highlighting the store or Blawnox. Brick and mortar is alive and well at N Stuff, often being fed by customers who come in for one-on-one help after buying something online. The store also offers lessons you can order online for those who want to learn to play guitar, keyboards, bass, drums, or even those who want to improve their singing voice.

“We treat everyone like they are our best friends,” Jason said.

Among those “best friends” are some of the biggest name musical acts who come in for rentals when they are playing in Pittsburgh, he added. The store can hook up musicians with everything from instruments to sound or lighting systems to rent.

It is a business that has come a long way since Bob Sarra was offering lessons in small rooms early on ... and when pianos were at the top of the marquee.

“It was a different business when I started,” he said.

And it continues to evolve.

“It's like a shark. You can't stop, you have to keep swimming,” Justin said.

Sharon Drake is a freelance writer.

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