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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

After 50 years of business, iconic Spokane store files for bankruptcy

A closed sign is posted on Sept. 15 at the office of Rings & Things, 1011 E. Second Ave., in Spokane.  (TOM CLOUSE/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

Rings & Things, an iconic Spokane business and founding member of the cluster of downtown shops known as 2nd City, filed for bankruptcy this month following what owners described as a forced closure caused by a computer system crash.

According to posts on Facebook, the 50-year-old business suffered an irrevocable computer failure on Aug. 15.

“By noon, we were dead in the water, with no way to even post anything on our website to explain,” the post said. “We made it 50 years, so (we) can be proud of that, although we are very sad at how abruptly we ended.”

Calls and messages left at the store and on its Facebook page were left unanswered this week.

According to the bankruptcy that was filed Sept. 1 by company President Polly Jo LaRue, Rings & Things had total assets of about $250,000, of which about $230,000 was in merchandise.

The company listed its liabilities, or the money owed to others, at about $894,000 to a long list of creditors.

Attorney David Gardner, who filed the bankruptcy on behalf of LaRue, did not immediately return a message Thursday seeking comment.

The closing prompted a massive response on social media, with more than 490 people posting mostly positive comments about their long years of patronizing the Spokane store that mostly sold items to make jewelry.

The store, which had a yearslong run in River Park Square, had been the creation of the late Russ Nobbs, who died in 2014 at the age of 70.

Raised on a farm in upstate New York, Nobbs was proud to be called a hippie.

Once convinced he wanted to become a physicist, Nobbs was accepted to attend Massachusetts Institute of Technology but didn’t go because of the cost.

After studying engineering at a different school, Nobbs lost interest. “So when an opportunity came to walk out of school and join an anti-nuclear-weapons march, I took it,” Nobbs told the newspaper in 2014.

Before founding Rings & Things, Nobbs founded a local commune and published a counterculture newspaper from 1967 to 1970 called the Spokane Natural.

The “hippie,” who once was arrested for vagrancy by the Spokane police, later built his business worth several millions and later served on the Spokane Chamber of Commerce.

“I scared people, but it was intentional,” Nobbs told The Spokesman-Review. “People need to be scared in order to wake up and see what was going on.”

He eventually started Rings & Things in 1972 with jewelry merchandise leftover from his father-in-law’s business at the 1964 New York’s World’s Fair.

Nobbs and his wife, Dee Mueller, eventually built the business into three stores: Rings & Things retail, a bead store and the Jeweler’s Bench, a fine-craft gallery.

But he never lost his hunger for advocacy. He led recycling efforts at Spokane events for decades and in 2012 was inducted into the Washington state Recycling Association’s Recycling Hall of Fame.

That same year, he received the inaugural Mike Chappell Spokane River Hero Award from the Center for Justice.

But he also built his business by selling jewelry at state fairs and then malls and later became one of the first wholesale bead merchants to offer online sales.

At one point, Nobbs said he traveled to China, Taiwan, Bali, Thailand and India to find beads.

Just before his death in 2014, Nobbs estimated that it would cost $4 million to start a business from scratch at the size it had become.

Nobbs said jewelry comes down to attraction.

“Now, do the beads I’m wearing make me attractive to young women?” Nobbs said. “Probably not, but my wife likes them.”