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  • Lezlie Sterling /

    Beth Hassett, with the Midtown Business Association, stops to play a few keys on a piano as she and Margaux Helm, right, walk to lunch past Harv's Car Wash. The owner of Harv's Car Wash, Aaron Zeff, put out the lavender piano in an effort to bring some artistic spontaneity to his little corner of Sacramento's Lavender Heights.

  • Lezlie Sterling /

    Student council members from Holy Family Catholic School try their hands on a street piano in front of Harv's Car Wash Wednesday.

  • Lezlie Sterling /

    Student council members from Holy Family Catholic School try their hands on the piano.

  • Lezlie Sterling /

    Workers at Harv's Car Wash work on a car next to a street piano. Carwash owner Aaron Zeff put out the lavender piano in an effort to bring some artistic spontaneity to his little corner of Sacramento's Lavender Heights, Wednesday, Jan 22, 2014.

Cathie Anderson: Key to fun at Harv’s Car Wash? It’s the lavender piano

Published: Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2014 - 10:54 pm
Last Modified: Thursday, Jan. 23, 2014 - 1:28 pm

The owner of Harv’s Car Wash, Aaron Zeff, rolled out a lavender piano last weekend in an effort to bring some artistic spontaneity to his little corner of Sacramento’s Lavender Heights.

If it helps sales as well, Zeff won’t complain, the economic downturn has been tough on many carwash operators as customers cut back on discretionary spending. Zeff’s chief aim, however, was adding a little more spice to midtown.

“I saw something about public street music, and they’ve done little ensembles with guys just showing up, and I thought that was cool,” Zeff said. “Then I saw something about a piano in Paris or somewhere in Europe, and I thought, ‘Well, everyone has an extra piano laying around somewhere in the family,’ and so I found one in our garage.”

Elsewhere in the western United States, the Downtown Denver Partnership placed playfully painted pianos around the city’s 16th Street Mall back in 2010. There were lines of people waiting to play them and groups doing impromptu singalongs.

Just this week at Harv’s, mother-son team Angela and Evan de la Vergne took a turn playing in exchange for a free carwash. Customer Sandy Engermann joined Harv’s employee Claudio Villanueva for a rendition of The Beatles’ “Let It Be.” And a group of students from Holy Family Catholic School played in unison.

The piano, which Zeff had painted lavender, is rolled out in the morning and returned inside when Harv’s closes.

The Inside scoop

The light bulb went off for publisher Cecily Hastings after she rejected one request after another from people wishing to partner up and take her Inside Publications to new territory. That is why, for the first time in 13 years, Hastings is creating a new edition of her monthly Inside magazine.

This one will go to the Pocket/Greenhaven area. The expansion, Hastings said, is affordable right now because the U.S. Postal Service has changed how it delivers free periodicals like hers. Her handling costs dropped dramatically because now the magazines go directly to carriers.

“It doesn’t have to go to a mailhouse,” Hastings said. “It doesn’t have to be inkjet-labeled. It is a lot less costly.”

Hastings produces three other editions of her monthly magazine. The first, founded in 1996, chronicles neighborhood news in and around east Sacramento. Two years later, the second began doing the same in Land Park, Curtis Park, midtown and downtown. The third Inside, started in 2000, serves Arden Arcade, Carmichael and other nearby neighborhoods.

As the years have passed, Hastings has expanded the number of neighborhoods that each publication covers. Total circulation is 56,500, but that will grow by 16 percent when Inside Pocket debuts in February. Inside Publications employs six full-time employees, including Hastings’ husband, Jim, who is CFO, and a large contingent of part-time and contract workers. The business operates out of the Hastings’ spacious home opposite McKinley Park in a tastefully converted garage and basement.

Inside Publications’ revenue has doubled roughly every five years, Hastings said, and 2013 was a red-hot year because she bit the bullet and hired an independent firm to audit and verify circulation figures every six months.

“It was less expensive than I thought it would be,” Hastings said, “and it was a big turning point. All of a sudden, we started attracting bigger advertisers, so that worked out well right at the time when everyone else was slumping as a result of the recession.”

LEEDing the way

Sacramento Habitat for Humanity will celebrate the completion of its 100th home on Saturday, but perhaps more importantly, it also will be the nonprofit’s 25th home to meet stringent energy and environmental design ratings.

“We’ve been really concerned about what’s going to happen in the future when utility prices go up – not if, but when,” said Ken Cross, the organization’s chief executive officer. “Could that force our families out of their homes?”

About five years ago, Cross’ team applied for a grant to learn how to build homes that the U.S. Green Building Council could certify as meeting guidelines of the Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design program. Several years ago, Sacramento Habitat put its first homebuyer into a LEED Platinum home. The results?

“(The homeowner) lived in her house for over three years before she saw her first utility bill from SMUD,” Cross said. “She was paying her taxes, the $8 or $10 or $12 that you have to pay no matter what, but I think her first bill that she got in three years was like $4 and change. She was carrying something like a $70 credit.”

For Cross, building LEED-certified homes also makes business sense because it means that he is staying one step ahead of California’s increasingly stringent energy-efficiency standards.

If you want to celebrate Sacramento Habitat’s newest addition, join Cross and local politicians at 10 a.m. Saturday at 7114 Indian Lane in Sacramento. Elsewhere in the region, Yolo County Habitat has built 10 homes; El Dorado County, five; and Nevada County, 25. If families meet Sacramento Habitat’s need definitions and are selected, they receive a no-interest mortgage for 30 years. No buyer has defaulted in Habitat’s 29-year history.

Call The Bee’s Cathie Anderson, (916) 321-1193. Follow her on Twitter @CathieA_SacBee.

Read more articles by Cathie Anderson

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