A coda for the Downtown fixture and its beloved owner

Editor's note: Uncle Sam's Pawn Shop closed April 15, 2019, after 69 years in business.

At heart, Uncle Sam’s Pawn Shop was always for musicians, and so it remains as the Downtown institution prepares to turn off the neon after 69 years. Sure, the old store deals in the usual bric-a-brac, but past the belt buckles and Barbies, past the typewriters and taxidermy, you can find a working instrument or a decent amp or a loan when money is tight.

You might even stumble upon a saxophone that briefly lived in Cleveland’s Rock & Roll Hall of Fame—specifically, a 1953 Selmer Super Action Saxophone, once the property of Rusty Bryant, a jazz legend and Columbus native who hit No. 15 on Billboard’s jazz chart in 1970. Bryant, a fixture at Uncle Sam’s, came in one day and sold the tenor sax to owner Gary Chasin, says store manager Russ Volk. Chasin later lent it out for a special hall of fame exhibit.

“Gary didn’t play anything himself, but he liked music—just the whole vibe and the whole scene,” Volk says. “He really wanted this to be a place for musicians.” National acts—like blues guitarist Joe Bonamassa and singer-songwriter Nathaniel Rateliff—often visited the store on their way through town.

But Chasin died in 2015, and in his will, he asked his daughters, Bettye Jane Klinger and Cathy Zweig, to sell Uncle Sam’s. He didn’t want to force his passions—the shop and its musicians—onto them. Klinger says her dad and the store were too closely intertwined to let go quickly, but now the building has been sold and the shop is closing. The last day of business is April 15.

On a weekday afternoon in February, local guitarist Frank Aledia stops by, hoping to get a loan against his Gibson Chet Atkins guitar. He got his first guitar at Uncle Sam’s, his first amp too, as well as funding for various small projects. “This is our bank,” Aledia says. “We’re gonna miss it.”

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