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Tuesday, May 22, 2007 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Classic old downtown pawnshop calls it quits

Seattle Times staff reporter

When he steps out of his store, it's glaringly obvious to Alan Goldman why the Central Loan & Gun Exchange doesn't belong on First Avenue anymore, and why it's been forced to close after 64 years in business.

All around him, except for Taboo Video, the next-door porno shop, is the new downtown Seattle of high-end shops and hotels.

A pawnshop and a porno shop are relics of the gritty street scene of three to four decades ago.

The last day for the Central is Thursday, and mourners have been stopping by the shop's 1016 First Ave. location, between Madison and Spring streets.

Among them are workers from nearby offices who used to drop in, maybe to chat, maybe to buy jewelry or a gun, the shop's specialties.

"I'm going to miss this place. This is now a boutique street," said Scott Forrester, who's been coming to the Central for 20 years to buy rings, necklaces and other jewelry.

"What's left with character in this city is the Pike Place Market and a couple of stores, and that's it," he said.

The Central had so much character that a scene in the 1974 John Wayne detective movie "McQ," set in Seattle, was filmed at the shop. The Central still looks the same.

Once, First Avenue had 27 pawnshops, numerous XXX-rated places, plus plenty of smoky, old-time taverns in which Michelob was considered an exotic beer.

After the Central closes, only two pawnshops will be left in downtown Seattle.

"The low-income people have all been squeezed out," said Goldman, 60, who took over the business from his dad, Gerson Goldman. "Now there are just a couple of hotels to house low-income people.

"A lot of people have moved to the Eastside, and, quite frankly, a lot of our customers are retired and got sick of living in Seattle."

Why should the customers go to a downtown pawnshop, he said, when there are all those brand-new ones in the suburbs, offering free parking? Downtown, a parking garage can set one back $13 for a short visit.

"Who'll take a bus to us carrying a TV to pawn?" Goldman said.

Diagonally across the street from Central is the Alexis Hotel, which advertises itself as a "work of art." Nearby are stores offering such items as antique lighting and "luxurious bath products." A couple of blocks north is the Seattle Art Museum, which just completed an $86 million expansion.

High end is not what Central is about.

Central's lighting consists of bare fluorescent fixtures suspended from a ceiling with peeling paint. Its floor is covered with red, blue and green linoleum squares so worn that in places the wood planking underneath is showing.

And what could be considered artwork at Central is the giant plastic model of an M16A1 assault rifle hanging from a wall.

Goldman said the shop never recovered from the most devastating blow of all to his business.

From October 2004 to June 2006, he said, the sidewalk south of his shop was closed for construction. Rising at the end of the block was the 24-story Madison Tower and Hotel 1000, which epitomizes the changing downtown.

It advertises itself as "Seattle's finest luxury boutique hotel," with rates ranging from $225 to $5,000 a night. Floors 15 to 24 consist of 47 view condominiums that all have been sold for $650,000 (studio) to $4.5 million (penthouse).

"People thought we were closed," Goldman said. "Business dropped 40 percent. It picked up after the hotel opened, but not nearly enough."

The shop struggled on, losing money.

Goldman shares the business with his younger brother, Larry, 52, whose specialty is jewelry. Larry Goldman helped run Goldman's Jewelry in the Pike Place Market, another business started by Gerson Goldman.

When it closed in 2002, Larry Goldman moved his jewelry stock to Central.

In cardboard boxes kept in one of four safes at the shop, he has 200 to 300 loose diamonds and 500 to 600 precious stones among his considerable jewelry holdings.

The Central has never been robbed.

"Who'd be stupid enough? I mean, look around," Alan Goldman said.

He meant the guns.

In its heyday in the late 1990s — and up until 9/11, when sales for all kinds of businesses plummeted — the shop used to sell 1,500 to 2,000 guns a year.

By far, the most popular was the SKS, a semi-automatic rifle developed by the Russians in the 1940s, and since then manufactured by a number of countries. It has been called the "poor man's deer rifle," Goldman said; in the late 1980s, it sold for $69.99.

Glock pistols sold well, too, including the Model 19 semiautomatic. New, its price was $549.99.

Four-fifths of the shop's customers are men such as Andrew Thomas, 24, a community-college student who works at a Pioneer Square bar. He was there with a buddy, checking out a rifle for target shooting.

"This place reminds me of an old hardware store. It's very comfortable," Thomas said.

Goldman said, "This is kind of a big boy's toy store."

The building's owner wouldn't disclose potential tenants.

When the Central closes, Larry Goldman will go looking for a job. He also has a showcase rented at a Pioneer Square mall to display some of his jewelry. Alan Goldman thinks he'll stay in the loan business, but working for somebody else.

On Thursday, there will be no special celebration at the Central Loan & Gun Exchange.

"We'll just close the doors and say goodbye," Alan Goldman said.

Erik Lacitis: 206-464-2237 or elacitis@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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