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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Business

Longtime Spokane pawn shop ending 91-year run downtown

By Thomas Clouse The Spokesman-Review

The circa 1891 brick building hosts a throwback pawn shop where patrons can find everything from a custom ring to a throwing axe or even a cassette tape of Barbara Streisand.

Millman Jewelers E-Z Loans has been hocking people’s treasures since 1929 and is the last of what used to be eight similar shops on or near West Main Street in downtown Spokane. But owner Annette Silver said she plans to close the pawn shop in December or January, depending on how long it takes for her to sell all of her merchandise.

“It used to be a destination. You’d come down and shop the pawn shops,” the 74-year-old Silver said. “Being the last one, it stopped being a destination, except for my customers.”

The pawn shop, which still writes its loans out by hand, was hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic and Silver closed the shop for six weeks even though Gov. Jay Inslee and the state considered pawn shops as essential businesses.

Silver said she also has personal reasons for the impending closure, when she will finally shut down the chain-driven display that roll rows of Black Hills Gold jewelry for customers to peruse.

“The fact that I took six weeks off and sat around and thought about it, it helped me decide I could do that,” Silver said. “I’m not necessarily happy about it. But I need to go see my children and grandchildren.”

Silver has two sons in California and a daughter in Bellevue, Washington. Her children have produced seven grandchildren. “I want to get to know them a lot better,” she said.

Pawn shop row

Silver got into the business by marrying a grandson of Henry and Sadie Millman, who started the business in 1929 next door to the current location at 407 W. Main St.

“I took it over in 1989,” Silver said. “It’s such a big part of my life. It’s going to be hard not being there anymore.”

The area had been home to as many as eight pawn shops. When Silver started there, she said as many as five other pawn shops operated, including Dutch’s Inc. at 415 W. Main St., which closed in 2013 when owner Gary Singer died.

Another neighbor was Sam Huppin, who ran a clothing store and pawn shop before transitioning into electronics. In 2013, current owner Murray Huppin moved the downtown store to 8016 N. Division St. where it’s now called Huppins Life & Technology Connected.

“There used to be three (pawn shops) around the corner,” Silver said. “They would specialize in one thing, we would specialize in another.”

Silver admits she was slow to take her business online. She mostly uses Ebay, and sometimes Facebook Marketplace, to sell items.

Silver said she recently sold a 1948 Royal typewriter to a guy in Iowa for $100, but only after the customer confirmed that the backspace key worked. “He said, ‘I make a lot of mistakes,’ ” she said. “That has sat on the shelf for a long time.”

In the corner hangs a neon Budweiser sign that Silver has resisted selling because it provides light for that area. She also has a collection of vintage pocket watches, mostly from railroad workers, all in working order.

Mostly, though, her customers come in to see what kind of electronics, guitars and jewelry she has to offer.

“There is more consumer financing available. There wasn’t in 1981 when I started,” she said. “So, people have other venues to get loans rather than bring in an item of collateral and leave it here.”

And the downtown location is no longer the draw it once was.

“Being downtown is not that easy with the parking situation,” she said. “It’s hard bringing your rifle downtown because people freak out. It’s also hard to bring a 50-inch TV and find a parking place.”

The original pawn shop was located next door. Silver moved into the current building in 1987, which is the same year her only employee, 67-year-old Jim Johnson, began working for her.

“He’s been an invaluable employee for that length of time,” she said. “Right now it’s just the two of us.”

Johnson works behind a counter he calls The Bunker, where all the big business decisions and transactions get done. He said he’s going to take some time off to decide what to do next.

“I’m just going to miss the regulars, that kind of thing,” he said.

Silver said some of their customers shed tears when they learned of her plans to close.

“We definitely have that mom-and-pop mentality,” she said. “Our customers are family.”

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