He has long engaged in this laborious routine, hauling it like a boulder through city streets with an intricate system of ropes and dollies. But recently, the matter of the Steinway’s storage became a serious problem, forcing Mr. Huggins to heave it across downtown Manhattan throughout the pandemic in a scramble to find a home for it.
In March, the Steinway was stored in a small, street-level space he was renting in Alphabet City. When the pandemic took hold, he said, drug dealers began hanging out around the building, and he had a fallout with his landlords. Next, he made arrangements to keep the Steinway in a shuttered vegan restaurant on St. Marks Place, and he pushed it there during a night of protests in May, shoving it past trash fires and chanting crowds. Recently, the restaurant made plans to reopen, so Mr. Huggins needed to start his search again.
When Mr. Huggins started busking in 2007, he played on a battered upright piano that he bought on Craigslist. In 2018, he obtained the Steinway through a crowdfunding initiative, and it has since become the majestic lure that helps draw audiences to him. Because of all the bumping and thumping the Steinway endures, he employs a piano tuner named Arpad Maklary, 51, who visits him regularly in Washington Square Park.
As Mr. Maklary recently assessed Mr. Huggins’ Steinway, he said that times were tough for him, too, because he usually works on pianos for New York University. “I’m lucky I sold a piano just before this all happened,” he said. “I’m still gnawing off the legs of that sale.”
During lockdown, Mr. Huggins tried to adapt his act. Alongside clips of famous movie scenes, he live-streamed improvisations on the upright in his living room, which brought in some donations, but he found the experience disheartening. “It feels like you’re performing to your iPad,” he said. “I felt like I wasn’t connecting with my audience anymore.