Before last week, I’d never been inside Bob Trosper’s business, even though it isn’t more than a five-minute walk from the office.
Now he’s packed it in, or more accurately, he has packed it out at R&L Stamp and Coin, the business that he’s operated for 44 years. On Friday, his lease ran out.
The fact that I’ve driven by Trosper’s Hewitt Avenue shop in downtown Everett hundreds of times and never stopped in is clearly my loss. As I talked with Bob last week inside his tiny shop – which was already half empty – I got the sense of what it must have been like.
The closest thing it reminded me of was an old hardware store jammed with things that were a surprise and often a delight – things you suddenly craved but didn’t know you wanted until you spotted them on the shelf.
The business wasn’t just about stamps and coins. There were all sorts of collectibles, including pocket and wrist watches, old wooden desk clocks, glassware, a hunk of walrus tusk, folk art and no fewer than four antique safes that are so big no self-respecting burglar would even consider trying to move them.
One safe was labeled from the Maulsby Machine Co. of Bucyrus, Ohio, and Everett, Wash., making me wonder if it was built here or if the company just had a sales office in town.
The glassware, Trosper said, was the idea of his late wife.
“She said she’d put up with coins and stamps if I could put up with glassware,” Trosper said.
My favorite collectibles were all hanging from a big fishing net tacked to the wall – dozens and dozens of old fishing lures, including some that were quite valuable. Trosper said a customer recently bought about 40 of them for $3,000.
In recent years, Trosper said, he’d been doing more collecting than selling.
“We had a lot of looky-loos,” he said.
There was a lot to look at in the long, narrow shop. Trosper said he’d collected 3,000 watches over the decades.
Trosper decided to close when his landlord raised the rent. “I wasn’t making any money before, so it’s not economically feasible to keep doing this,” said Trosper, 79. “I’m old and I’m ill, so I’m leaving.”
He noted that he just decided to call it quits. “I didn’t even try to sell the business,” he added.
I know I would have liked Trosper’s little shop, but I suspect I would have liked him more.
As we talked, he asked his daughter to find his photo books, pages and pages of customers he considered his friends, all posing in front of the crowded shelves.
“The people have been the best,” he said. “I’ve always enjoyed talking with them.”
Among the friends in the book is Mike Sells, a state representative and the head of the Snohomish County Labor Council.
Sells thinks of Trosper as a good friend as well, someone who taught him a great deal about stamps and coins in specific and business in general.
“He’s a last of a dying breed,” Sells said, noting there were few stamp and coin shops left in the state.
Trosper remembers doing business with generations of collectors.
He talked about one of his first customers, Howie Chen, who at age 6 or 7 started buying up Indian head pennies. “He’s still a customer,” Trosper said.
The business is closed, but Trosper still plans to do a little business.
“I had a pretty generous layaway system,” he said. “People would come in and pay on their accounts. I’m not cutting anyone off. I just won’t be dealing out of the storefront. I won’t desert them.”
Trosper said the stamp and coin business is a little up and down, based on the price of metals. The metal market was pretty volatile in the ’80s, and gold recently had a strong run before prices started dipping again. “I can’t believe how prices advanced on some of this stuff,” he said. “It’s been a very, very hot business.”
Since Trosper was in the business for 44 years, I couldn’t help but ask for some advice to share with others.
His recommendation: “Just watch out who you’re talking to out there and make sure you treat them like you’d like to be treated. The customer is the boss and you do the things they want done and you do it the way they want it done.”
Sounds to me like Nordstrom doesn’t have anything on Trosper when it comes to customer service.
Trosper said he’s not sure what he’ll do in his sudden retirement. But he does know what he won’t do.
“I used to get up in the morning and go to work,” he said. “I’ll still get up in the morning, but I won’t be going to sit in front of the TV. I’ll enjoy my life and my family.”
Mike Benbow: 425-339-3459: firstname.lastname@example.org.