May 4, 2008 in City
Spokane Shaver falls victim to the times
Today we bid sad adieu to yet another lilac landmark.
Earlier this month the startling news broke that Division Street icon Burgans Furniture was calling it quits.
And now – perhaps you’d better sit down for this – I must report that Spokane Shaver has pulled the plug.
What? The small business at S. 9 Howard doesn’t jostle your memory cells?
I guess that’s not surprising. The public, according to owner Dave Biggs, has been staying away in droves.
It wasn’t always that way. Spokane Shaver came into being in 1950 and was dedicated to the noble and then-needed art of electric razor repair.
With its neon Norelco shaver glowing from the storefront window, Spokane Shaver was a throwback to the era when men took their shaving seriously and hung onto their electric razors like old pals.
And when those beloved cutters went on the fritz, the owners didn’t think of throwing them away. They trucked them downtown to Spokane Shaver for an overhaul.
During his shop’s heyday, Biggs said he had three repairmen toiling full time from their posts in front of a battle-scarred workbench. Repair orders were stacked floor to ceiling.
Life was as smooth as a freshly shaved cheek.
Biggs stocked his glass display cases with the very best German-made safety razors and boxes of blades. He sold old-fashioned straight razors to people with steady hands and adventurous hearts.
You could buy all the other manly grooming accoutrements, too: brushes and soap, clippers and scissors, lotions and powders, and even moustache wax.
Spokane Shaver was reputed to be one of the most complete and successful shops of its kind.
But now …
“I’m a dinosaur,” lamented Biggs, 69, as we sat and chatted one day last week.
It didn’t take an economics professor to know the end was coming.
Biggs said the trouble started brewing years ago, when stores like Costco and Fred Meyer started peddling electric razors at cut-rate prices he couldn’t match.
As a result, fewer and fewer consumers hung onto their shavers. When one broke down, it was toss it away and go to the store for a newer model.
Add to this the downtown Spokane factor. People absolutely hate those parking meters, said Biggs, noting that they will patronize the malls to avoid them.
Biggs finally decided he’d had enough and set May 2 as his final day.
It was depressing walking into Spokane Shaver one last time. I used to love going in to gawk at all the wares. I even bought my last Norelco there.
But I didn’t recognize the store I saw Thursday. Everything was gone except for maybe a half-dozen pairs of scissors and few random odds and ends.
Biggs took me into his back room, a worn world of old desks, an ancient metal file cabinet and faded signs that offer up wisdom such as: “Try our new credit plan. 100 percent down. No payments.”
Biggs wore his trademark powder blue lab jacket. He seemed in good spirits, all things considered.
The Spokane native said he started working at Spokane Shaver in 1964.
“They had an opening for a repairman,” he explained. Although Biggs had never repaired an electric razor, he took to the trade and wound up buying the business just two years later.
Over the years, Biggs served the common folk and the well-to-do. One old ex-senator used tell Biggs stories about the rude behavior of President Woodrow Wilson.
Speaking of stories, one of Biggs’ favorites dates back to the mid-1960s. One day a customer brought in his electric razor and said there was something wrong with it.
A repairman plugged the cord in. Nothing.
Then he flipped the switch.
“It blew up,” said Biggs, grinning at the memory. White smoke engulfed the man. All you could see was an arm extending out of the plume holding what was left of the shattered shaver.
He looked “like the Statue of Liberty,” said Biggs, beginning to laugh.
The customer looked at the stunned repairman as he brushed the soot and ashes from his face.
“Told you there was something wrong with it,” he said.