At 6 a.m. on March 12, Ufuk Bekiroglu started to set up his vegetables and fruit street stand at East 116th Street and Lexington Avenue. He had just arrived from Hunts Point Market in the Bronx where he stokes for the day. Everything was normal, early costumers buying fruits for breakfast and commuters waiting for MTA buses. At 9:30 a.m. Bekiroglu, 42, was selling a 25-cent banana to a customer when they both heard an explosion.
“I was giving her change,” said Bekiroglu. “Then I heard something, I turned right and there was fire, smoke and a lot of windows and building stuff that blew up.”
Bekiroglu thought it was a train accident; the grey almost white smoke went downtown with the wind.
A block and a half from his stand, two buildings had collapsed to the ground due to an explosion caused by a gas leak. One of the buildings, 1646 Park Ave, housed Absolute Piano, a store on the first floor that sold new and refurbished pianos. The shop also rented pianos, tuned and repaired them. The five-story building, owned by Kaoru Muramatsu who also managed the shop, was completely destroyed and Absolute Piano vanished into a pile of rubble, along with all of its pianos.
Muramatsu along with her business partner Mark Ripatti, who had worked many years at a midtown piano store, established Absolute Piano in September 2005. From 2010 through July 2013, the company also had a contract with the New York Department of Education. As part of ShopDOE, a purchasing planning portal for personnel of the city’s department of education, Absolute offered “Kawai” brand pianos and accessories to schools.
Colin Patterson, a 53-year-old piano technician, who lived behind the store, was there at the moment of the explosion. He told the Daily News, “The pianos flew in the air—pianos were all around me.” But Patterson, who sustained minor injuries, said the pianos saved him. “I was stuck in some miraculous cocoon,” he told the paper.
How many pianos were in the store at the time of the explosion is still unknown. Attempts to reach the owners and employees of Absolute Pianos were unsuccessful.
Rick Aquino, founder and president of Worldwide Piano, a piano store and music school in Edison, N.J. Said, “pianos are very sensitive instruments. It’s very tough to repair a piano that has been in a bad environment, let alone what happened to those; they are done.”