Local businessman sneaks piano into Safeway parking lot to connect folks

Audrey Caro Gomez

A piano that mysteriously appeared at the corner of 15th and Main on July 27, the Wednesday before the Oregon Jamboree, proved to be a big hit during the festival and beyond.

Those who put it there kept a tight lip. They simply enjoyed listening to people play it and talk about it around town.

The New Era got a tip on the do-gooders and Will Garrett, owner of Radiator Supply House, reluctantly confessed to the deed.

“I don’t need credit for what I did, it’s all about Sweet Home,” he said “It’s about building people.”

Garrett said he got the idea and asked a couple of his employees to help out.

Justin Howerton, Zach Martinez and Garrett loaded the piano into an enclosed trailer and hauled it to the corner in front of Safeway, where they scouted the territory to make sure they wouldn’t be spotted.

The coast clear, they quickly unloaded the piano and pulled out of the Safeway parking lot as soon as they could, Garrett said.

They were unsure of what would happen next.

Garrett was surprised by the immediacy of the first response.

“By the time we got to the light there was a guy playing the piano,” he said.

This is the first piano he’s placed secretively, but he also put one at Hawthorne Elementary, where his children attend, last school year.

School officials had to put a timer on it, Garrett said, to make sure everyone got a chance to play.

Three of Garrett’s children take piano lessons and he looks up videos to keep them motivated, he said.

He was inspired in the spring by a video he found of the “Play Me, I’m Yours” street pianos, which were first commissioned in the UK in 2008 and created by artist Luke Jerram.

According to the website, Jerram got the idea while visiting the launderette.

“I saw the same people there each weekend and yet no one talked to one another,” Jerram said, according to the site.

“I suddenly realized that within a city, there must be hundreds of these invisible communities, regularly spending time with one another in silence.”

His remedy was pianos.

“I thought that was pretty cool,” Garrett said. “It was inspiring as all get out.”

He hoped kids would play a little bit and maybe be motivated to get off video games for a bit.

As for the piano on Main Street, he initially figured they would keep it there until it started to rain.

That plan got cut short when vandals broke the piano and overturned it.

Garrett was working in Nebraska at the time, and by the time he got back, someone else had already replaced it.

Through Facebook, Garrett followed John Forrest’s efforts to organize the installation of the replacement piano, which was donated by the Church of the Nazarene (see accompanying story).

“It’s awesome,” Garrett said.

Garrett has a few more second-hand pianos that he hopes to place in Sweet Home’s elementary schools this coming school year.

“I would love to put a piano at every elementary school,” he said.

If anyone is looking to get rid of a piano, Garrett invites them to contact him at (541) 912-2549.

“It’s just about bringing people together and building community in a positive way,” he said.