Karen and David Benish have specialized in stringing tennis racquets for 38 years. The Tennis of Spokane business owners sell all things tennis: shoes, clothing, accessories, gadgets, and of course racquets – with an option to test them out before purchasing.
The Benishes had a shop in California before moving to Spokane in 1995. The couple said they like meeting the variety of customers.
“Last week a fellow came in from Montana,” said Karen, 82. “He had two racquets. The most difficult racquets in the entire world (to string), very expensive racquetball racquets from hell.”
The string pattern was unusual, Karen said. However, they told the customer about the difficulty, but didn’t plan to charge extra for the work.
“Racquet strings get old. Every manufacturer recommends you change them at least once a year, even if you don’t play with the racquet and it’s stuck in the closet. There aren’t many places in Spokane that do racquet restringing,” Karen said.
In the late 1980s the United States Racquet Stringers Association designed a certification test; David was one of the first 12 certifiers, Karen said.
She said stringers need to be knowledgeable. Among other things, there are many kinds of strings: Nylons, blends, polyesters, gut and even “origin,” which is made from vegetable material.
Some years ago, the Benishes taught stringing to Jerred Mace, who then worked at the Spokane Racquet Club. There, Mace passed on the skill and taught Jake Taylor.
“The Benishes run the only dedicated full-service shop in town,” Taylor said. “People trust their expertise. David helped me with certification preparation. He has given me little bits of knowledge over the years for free.”
Said Karen: “Tennis has been a direction for our lives.”
David, 84, started playing tennis in 1953 and later taught her.
“Tennis has been a direction for our lives,” Karen said.
David’s expertise is in racquets, while Karen handles the books, shoes and overflow stringing.
“Karen has been great at finding ways to save money, I’ve learned a lot from her,” David said.
His wife credits his strengths, saying: “Customers can talk to a human being who has a tremendous amount of experience and knowledge.”
David hits a racquet and knows if it’s better for the beginner, volley player or baseliner.
“He can pick it up and hit for five minutes and knows that. It’s a gift really,” Karen said of her husband.
The small downtown shop has prided itself on its personalized service with school tennis teams from its inception.
“For example, the Lakeside coach lives on the South Hill and comes by to pick up shoes for the kids to try on so they don’t have to come here (because the students don’t finish practice until 5 p.m., when the shop closes),” Karen said.
Although the couple no longer plays, they stay on top of the latest research and trends. Karen said they absorb new information from manufacturer representatives, giving an example of Babolat, the leading brand in the U.S. Their research brought a change in string patterns.
“They discovered most recreational players don’t hit the sweet spot in the middle of a frame. Players are consistently on the upper edges of the middle,” Karen said. “So, they changed the string pattern giving you more control where you hit the ball. We knew that before the racquet hit the market.”
The Benishes have considered retiring, but believe they’re needed in Spokane: “It’s sad to think there won’t be a shop at some point,” Karen said.
As with many small businesses, it’s challenging to stay viable, but tennis still serves as a direction in their lives. David said, “We’re both survivors, we’ve had to work hard to keep the shop alive.”
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