When Bruce Cudmore was hired at Carr Sales in 1989, he was happy to work in downtown Spokane.
Unlike most people who live north of Wellesley Avenue, he said, he didn’t have much anxiety about venturing to the city center every day. He was 32 years old with a growing family, and glad to have the job at the electric supply distributor and lighting showroom. Some days, though, were more exciting than others.
“Oh, who was that naked guy that wandered around down here?” he asked, remembering.
In about three weeks, however, those days will be behind him. On Nov. 2, Carr Sales will close after 89 years in business.
Richard Barnett, the third Barnett to run the store since 1946, said it wasn’t any one thing that led to the store’s closure. The internet and LED technology hobbled his business, he said. Also he wanted to go out on his own terms, when he was young enough to enjoy a vacation longer than a week, something he hasn’t done in years.
“It is what it is,” said Barnett, who is in his 50s. “Easily half of this is ‘I’m done.’ ”
Carr Sales, a brightly lit icon on First Avenue between Monroe and Lincoln streets, began as a hardware store in the Fisher building in 1929. Fifteen years later, Don Barnett, Richard’s grandfather, bought the store and transformed it into an electric supply distributor. In 1971, Don’s son, Rod Barnett, took over the family business, armed with business and law degrees from Gonzaga.
Rod quickly built the Carr holdings, purchasing the Church’s Seed Store building next door, which by then housed the Sampson-Ayers House of Music, expanding the store’s lighting showroom into the space, and adding storage in the old hotel upstairs. Rod also established two other locations in town.
Richard Barnett started working for his dad, Rod, at the store in 1979 when he was a kid and took over the business in 2013 when his father died.
Trish Barnett, Rod’s widow and Richard’s mother, called Carr’s closing the “end of an era.” But like her son, she was comfortable with moving on.
“What happens, happens,” she said. “I’m sad about it. It’s the end of an era for our family and a beginning of a new aspect of our lives. Absolutely. It’s just a time to make that move for us as a family unit.”
Beginning Monday, the store will liquidate its remaining inventory, and Barnett said he was glad most of his 12 employees have found work elsewhere. Soon enough, the well-lit showroom with dozens of lamps blazing will only be a memory. The two buildings that comprise Carr, both built in 1906, however, may have a bright future.
The Barnetts – which include Trish, Richard and his two sisters – plan to keep the building and are pondering how to use them.
“We don’t know what’s happening. All options are open,” Trish said. “We want to beautify the area.”
Not that long ago, the two buildings were the nicer structures in this part of downtown. A 1995 Spokesman-Review article told of the “litter-strewn, two-block strip of West First,” and called it the “most dangerous downtown neighborhood.”
“There’s the Handy Market, a sex arcade, the Coach House Restaurant, a homeless-aid office and a place to get free needles, condoms and popcorn,” the article read.
Since then, the neighborhood has transformed, due in large part to the renovation of the Fox Theater and the rehabilitation work of Jerry and Patty Dicker of GVD Commercial. They own the Montvale Hotel, the former International Order of Odd Fellows Lodge and Music City Building, all on First. They also have a minority stake in the New Madison Hotel on the same block.
Now, the Carr buildings stand out, underutilized and in need of investment.
The original Carr store is in the Fisher building, 919 W. First Ave., which is named for the company that built and first occupied it: Theo. Fisher & Son, Dealers in Hides, Furs, etc. On the upper floors, dozens of apartment units sit abandoned. Wallpaper with illustrations of roses slip into dark corners, and the floor crunches underfoot. Sinks, toilets and bathtubs show the dusty buildup of decades of disuse. Handwritten signs still hang on the walls.
“Please drink your alcoholic beverages in your room at all times,” one reads. “Thank you.”
Another: “T.V. OFF 10 P.M.”
Still another: “Please no money involved in card games. Have fun!”
Fifty years have passed since anyone has lived here. Probably the same amount of time for the hotel next door.
The building that housed Henry Church’s seed store at 915 W. First Ave. was sold to Ruth Sampson in 1953. The gifted singer had opened Ruth Sampson Sheet Music in 1929, but moved into the old seed store building with her husband, Stephen Ayers, where they operated Sampson-Ayers House of Music – one of the largest sheet music outlets in the country.
Sampson ran the business for 50 years until her death in 1991 at age 92, when Barnett bought the building and expanded his electrical business.
Upstairs, the old hotel also shows signs of being uninhabited for decades. The paint is peeling and old sinks are covered in grime. In one room, a 1970s-era poster showing the family of Hohner Harmonicas still hangs on, as does a sign pointing to Studio 18, where Jack Campbell offered guitar and banjo lessons.
Light pours in from wide windows, and the yellow walls make the place shine and come alive, a daily event enjoyed by no one.
While the buildings’ futures are not yet known, Trish Barnett said she could envision someone fixing them up and turning them into living units.
“That seems to be what’s happening. I think it’s wonderful,” she said, not-so-fondly recalling the days when the Coach House Restaurant and a vacuum store graced First Avenue. “It’s turning into a rather artsy area part of town.”
Still, she said she’ll miss the days of Carr, when the store was the place you went if you couldn’t find it anywhere else.
“We always had the oddball thing the community was looking for,” she said.
Cudmore, who would’ve celebrated his 30th year with the company in February with a free lunch from the boss, is ready to hang up his blue jacket stitched with his name and, in cursive, “Carr.” Though near retirement age, he still has two kids at home and plans to work for another decade, once he lands a new job.
“God has provided so far,” he said. “I just don’t know who’s going to replace us.”
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