Frank T. Williams began selling pianos in the Sioux Falls area two years before South Dakota even existed.
It was 1887, a tough time to be trading in something as large and unwieldy as a piano. Hauling them over wagon-rutted dirt roads on horse-drawn piano carts was difficult, not to mention installing and tuning them after delivery.
At the time, Williams lived in Pipestone, Minnesota, and ran Williams Piano Co. from there, moving his operation to Sioux Falls in 1892. He began selling from the Willey & Williams Block, at the southeast corner of 6th and Main. By 1906, he had moved to the southwest corner of 9th and Phillips in the New Theater building. Shortly after, the business moved to the Boyce-Greeley building at the northwest corner of 11th and Phillips.
In June 1914, Williams started building his new grand showcase in the 200 block of South Main Avenue. The permanent home of Williams Piano Co. covered 60,000 square feet on two floors, though the business occupied only 15,000 square feet, renting the rest to tenants. Performance studios were installed on the second floor.
At first, Williams carried only pianos, eventually adding organs. He had been proud of his business’ narrow focus, but later, the product line expanded to include Victrolas and records, orchestra instruments, banjos, player pianos and rolls, sewing machines and, eventually, radios.
On June 21, 1922, WFAT, the first radio station in the city, began broadcasting from the second floor. Performances and recordings were provided by Williams Piano Co. In 1924, WFAT became KSOO.
In 1934, Williams' wife, Nellie, died at age 68. She left seven daughters, two sons and husband Frank, who died two years later. Their son Curtis, who had worked in the family business after college, carried on. In 1957, Curtis Williams and partners sold the business to Fred Warren and W. R. Laird. John F. Cook, John Warren and Jim Storevik managed the store while Williams and partners continued ownership of the building and other real estate properties.
The pedestrian mall on Phillips Avenue, which started construction in 1973, decreased foot traffic downtown. In 1975, Williams Piano Co. opened a store in the new Empire Plaza (Empire Mall), while keeping the downtown store going. Businesses downtown had not been doing well as shopping malls drew customers away. In 1977, Williams Piano Co. went out of business, leaving a 90-year legacy.