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Clark: Dutch’s pawnshop will close, but Gary Singer will live on

Veteran musicians and guitar experts, from left, Rick Rubin, Jason Kull and Sean Johnson, pictured Wednesday, are running Dutch’s in downtown Spokane until the store closes in October. Owner Gary Singer died recently and no one in his family wants to run the store. (Jesse Tinsley)
Veteran musicians and guitar experts, from left, Rick Rubin, Jason Kull and Sean Johnson, pictured Wednesday, are running Dutch’s in downtown Spokane until the store closes in October. Owner Gary Singer died recently and no one in his family wants to run the store. (Jesse Tinsley)

Gary Singer’s crazy sign still draws double-takes and belly laughs from those who pass the storefront at 415 W. Main Ave.

Surly staff.
Poor selection.
High prices.
Terrible quality.

But these days some new signs are causing an even bigger stir. Taped to the front windows, the small signs declare a shocking message in scarlet:

“Closeout Sale.”

There’s no getting around it. What many of us hoped wouldn’t happen is slowly and irrevocably coming to pass.

By October’s end, Dutch’s Inc., Spokane’s landmark downtown pawnshop and music store, will be history.

There had been talk of keeping the business going after Singer’s sudden death at home last February at age 66.

But Singer’s wife, Mary, explained that her husband was already planning to retire sometime next year and close the business that was started by his grandfather in 1915.

So this is just a bit earlier.

But a whole lot sadder.

“It’s like being on a ship and watching it slowly sink,” said Rick Rubin, who has been running Dutch’s along with Jason Kull and Sean Johnson.

The pawnshop stopped taking pawns months ago. Any loans needing to be rewritten are taken next door to Millman’s, another pawnshop.

Dutch’s inventory has been vastly depleted.

All the band instruments, Rubin said, were sold to Clearwater Music, a north Spokane business.

A Portland businessman recently bought every American-made Gibson and Fender Stratocaster.

Everything left is for sale, including glass display cases and the tools that can be yours for a dollar a pound.

“Deals are good,” Rubin added. “We haven’t refused anybody who comes in with a reasonable offer.”

The last six months have been troubling for this part of downtown.

In March, Huppin’s TV, Audio, Cameras and More – Dutch’s iconic next door neighbor to the west – closed its doors and moved everything to its newer headquarters on North Division.

“This neighborhood is not doing as well as I’d like to see it,” noted Chris O’Harra, owner of nearby Auntie’s Bookstore.

“We could get another shop in there but it wouldn’t be the same.”

Dutch’s slow demise has been helpful in one respect. Employees have had ample time to plan for their futures.

Rubin, a highly skilled and respected luthier, has decided to work from his home under the business moniker Luthier’s Loft.

Kull and Johnson, also quite skilled in the instrument repair arts, plan to remain a team. They say they will take up shop at a soon-to-be-announced location.

Dutch’s resident guitar teacher Joe Brasch, my buddy, my bandmate and guitarist extraordinaire, tells me he’s about a week away from teaching guitar at Hoffman Music, 1430 N. Monroe St.

The loss of Dutch’s will be tough for Spokane to absorb.

The loss of Singer is a different story.

Being the owner of a successful business is just a small part of what defined this soft-spoken man who was given to humility and wearing garish suspenders.

Behind the scenes and away from the limelight, Singer devoted countless hours to good works and charitable causes like public radio and fighting hunger.

His work with Second Harvest food bank, for example, was legendary. So much so that the organization has named its warehouse the Gary Singer Distribution Center.

That name has already been affixed to the building at 1234 E. Front Ave., said Jason Clark, Second Harvest president and CEO.

The move will become official, however, with a 2 p.m. ceremony at Second Harvest on Sept. 25.

“It kind of makes me smile to think how embarrassed he’d be to see his name on the side of our building,” added Clark (no relation), one of Singer’s close friends.

Singer’s quirky sense of humor will also be commemorated, albeit in far less ceremonious way.

That famous Dutch’s sign?

It will live on as a tattoo etched onto the right side of Kull’s neck.

“Everybody tells me don’t do it,” said the veteran rocker, whose arms are already festooned with a mural’s worth of brightly colored tats.

“But it’s no joke. My tattoo artist already has the design.”

Doug Clark can be reached at (509) 459-5432 ordougc@spokesman.com.

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