Pawn gone: Store with everything era ends |
The person with everything hasn’t seen Steve Briggs’ inventory.
Last-minute Christmas shopping options include a 20-pound pure copper ingot, a serving tray full of skeleton keys, and a bottle of Johnny Walker whiskey enclosed in a welded steel carrying case.
âSomeone’s lost a bet,â Briggs said of the inaccessible alcohol supply. âSo someone went to great lengths to keep the other from drinking that glass. I added the hacksaw.
The bottle remained on the floor of Alderwood Estate and Loan long enough to send a significant portion of the angels to evaporation. But not for long. Alderwood permanently closes on New Years Eve.
It opened as Wood’s Second Hand and Pawn in 1952, when Tom Wood paid $ 1,650 for an empty lot next to the Atlantic Hotel, around the corner from the railroad depot. He and his father, Jack Wood, sold men’s clothing and accessories to railway workers and loggers. They then opened a second-hand furniture and home appliance store in the same block, according to business partner Linda Helding.
âTom contracted adult polio in 1954,â Helding said. âHe lost the use of his general muscle strength as well as the hand muscles used for opposable thumbs. He asked Arnold (Helding, Linda’s father) to redeem his father Jack – Tom needed a stronger person as a partner. Over the next 40 years, they built the business together.
Arnold Helding loved the outdoors and added guns, fishing gear, and camping gear to the shelves. He had also been a photographer for McKay Art Co., which led him to sell cameras. Wood and Helding scoured the city for items to sell, as well as any piece of Missoula history they might acquire. When they retired, Linda Helding ran the store for a decade.
Steve Briggs was studying wildlife biology at the University of Montana when he got a job with pawnshop John Mandel, who had a store on the corner of Higgins Avenue and Spruce Street in 1981. Briggs bought the Woods Building Pawn in 1996 and renamed it Alderwood.
This outdoor heritage might explain the nearly hairless jackalope mounted on the wall next to more typical whitetail and mule deer trophies (Briggs described it as “hypoallergenic”). Like most Montana pawn shops, Alderwood has a respectable gun fleet. Briggs also includes an Iraqi inlaid flintlock musket dated 1808. It is available for $ 2,000.
A spiky pile of fishing lures has enough hooks to hook the flathead monster.
The weather is changing
âI’m not going to miss the job, but I will miss people,â Briggs said. “You see all walks of life here, from wrecks to multimillionaires.”
A shiny hard hat on the shelf behind his counter bears a Washington Construction label, dating from when Dennis Washington, the industrialist of Missoula Fortune 500, barely had two bulldozers to scrub.
Two chairs covered in leaky stickers and padding sit across from Briggs’ stool, occupied by a range of regular gossip dogs that spin around during office hours.
The scene around Alderwood has changed in the past decade alone. Four thrift stores and three pawn shops once operated within a block of Briggs’ Gate, as well as the old Missoulian newspaper and press office. As of now, only Circle Square Second Hand remains in operation north of Broadway. The rest have been replaced by real estate offices, restaurants and architectural firms.
Longtime residents of Missoula may remember the time when “a lady didn’t go north of Broadway.” Back in the days when Interstate 90 ran through downtown, the three blocks from Broadway to the railroad tracks had a rowdy reputation. The rows of bars and hotels along Alder and Spruce Streets served a rugged mix of railroad crews, factory workers, miners and students.
Second hand stores provided furniture and appliances for short-term workers, while pawn shops provided money for even shorter needs. When he took over the store in 1996, Briggs found a set of false teeth that a regular customer had pledged for the weekend money.
âJay Rummel used to come with some of his latest prints rolled up under his arm and he would sell them for a drink on Friday night,â Briggs said of one of Missoula’s prolific performers. âI was a snob – I only bought his colors by hand. I wish I had bought all the ones he brought.
Briggs found himself with enough to loan 14 Rummels to a retrospective of the artist’s work at the Missoula Art Museum. Large pen and ink images of Rummel still hang at the University of Montana Student Center, Top Hat Lounge, and other public places.
By informal arrangement, most of the pawn shops in Missoula focus on specific categories of products. Some like to swap sports equipment. Others prefer electronics. Alderwood has found a niche for hand and power tools.
âI had three shelves of screwdrivers there,â Briggs said of a huge counter covered with helpless equipment. âOne was just a flathead, one from Philips – there must be almost a thousand screwdrivers. A guy came over and bought them all.
Other things happen that never seem to go away. Small digital cameras were popular until cell phone cameras suddenly made them redundant. Music CDs stopped selling, although vinyl records returned in popularity.
âI thought I would have sold this sailboat a long time ago,â Briggs said of a dusty trophy hanging on his wall. “This has been going on for 20 years.”
Then there are the things Briggs didn’t commit to letting go, like the Operay Multibeam operating light hanging from his ceiling. It looks like a homemade satellite: a silver ball the size of a basketball with lamp lenses pointed at several adjustable mirrors, with a long blue counterweight glued to one side.
It was once hung in the doctor’s office at Deer Lodge State Prison, where doctors used it to light up an operating table. A construction worker renovating it took it in place of his salary and hung it in his garage, where Briggs found it. It can go to the right collector for between $ 5,000 and $ 15,000. Or he could go home with Briggs.
âI’m a better finder than a salesman,â he said, picking up a baritone ukulele without strings. âIt has been around for 10 years. “
Lots of things have already left the store. Briggs worked with Matthew and William Davis, who own the Davis Brothers Internet auction platform. They started out in the storeroom and the basement, bringing Alderwood’s more collectible but lesser-known inventory to the world market.
âLocal customers are very fond of the things they saw in the front end of the store,â said Matthew Davis. âThey’ve never seen the backrooms. We have local buyers, but at the end of the day Missoula is so big and the internet is huge. If you have a specialty banjo, something really specific that’s old and there are only a handful of collectors, that’s our goal. We bring out the specialty stuff. We’ll probably sell about 75% of his inventory at auction. “
Bargaining weird stuff was the fun part of the job, but the business depended on lending money. At the height of the activity, Briggs was making 20 loans a day.
âI would be lucky if I wrote five loans a week now,â he said. âSales remained okay, but the number of people entering has really dropped. I have to earn $ 5,000 a month before I earn a dime, after rent, taxes, utilities, and insurance.
Briggs stopped making loans in August, to clear the books in anticipation of the closure at the end of the year. It tracks them on a 1996 Hewlett-Packard desktop computer without an Internet connection. He still runs his original PawnMaster accounting program.
The Davis brothers plan to rent the building from Briggs and open a vintage clothing store there. The old folks who pledged their guns at the end of the hunting season and picked them up the following fall with money earned on the farm fields have all come online now. But the informal economy will survive.
âWe’re like funeral directors,â said Matthew Davis. âThere is always a need and a demand for our services – people who need money or who are dying, in situations where they have to liquidate things. The only reason we’re doing this is Steve’s retirement and there’s no one else to take the helm in the store. We expect Steve to continue doing what he does now, playing with better collectibles. He will buy it and probably sell it through us.