Sam M. Huppin, who helped transform his family’s men’s clothing store and pawn shop in downtown Spokane into a major electronics retailer, died of natural causes Friday. He was 85.
With an aeronautic engineering degree from Washington State University in hand and a keen interest in all things electrical, Huppin joined the business in the early 1950s and began tinkering with the radios and cameras that were in pawn and selling them, his son, Murray Huppin, said Saturday.
Consumers responded, and electronics slowly became a larger part of the business that was started by Sam Huppin’s grandfather in 1908 as a tailor shop.
“The camera section and radio section got bigger and bigger and bigger,” Murray Huppin said.
In the early 1970s, Huppin’s donated what men’s clothing it still had to charity to focus on electronics, becoming Huppin’s Photo and Hi-Fi. The business now has two storefronts in Spokane, one downtown on West Main Avenue and another on North Division Street, as well as a retail catalog and website, OneCall.com.
While it was Sam Huppin’s interest in cameras and radios that got the shop into the electronics business, it was his love of helping customers that allowed the business to thrive, Murray Huppin said.
“He was really someone from a different era,” his son said. “Every part of the business was relationship-oriented.
“If he had to make three stops on the way home to adjust a television set, he’d do it.”
“He had technical intuition, but additionally, at his core, he was a merchant,” said Henry Hill, a 23-year employee and vice president at Huppin’s. “He really liked working with people, and he was good.”
When Huppin aged and began spending less time at the store, customers noticed, Murray Huppin said.
“This past holiday season, every time I was in the store, a customer would ask me, ‘How’s your dad? I want to hear a story,’ ” he said. “The thing he loved most about the business was seeing customers, telling them jokes, telling them stories.”
Throughout his career at the store, Sam M. Huppin’s partner was Sam I. Huppin, his uncle and close friend, who died in 2008.
To tell the two apart, friends and family would call Sam I. “Big Sam” and Sam M. “Little Sam.”
But it was another nickname that many in the community knew Sam M. Huppin by: “Stereo Sam.”
The nickname came from an advertising jingle Huppin’s ran on the radio over the years.
“When your stereo’s in a jam,” the jingle went, “call Sam.”