For Rudy Gintel, co-owner of Brothers Collateral on Melrose Ave., his iconic yellow shop is more than just another business. As the name implies, it’s family. In 1958, Gintel’s father opened a pawn shop at 6th and Alvarado, across from Mac Arthur Park. And young Rudy, just 10 years old, started helping out on Saturdays. Later, he went to college, then law school, and passed the bar exam…but he says he never really wanted to be a lawyer.
Instead, after his dad retired in 1978, Rudy, his parents and his wife, Myrna, bought the old retail building at the NW corner of Melrose and Cahuenga, and Rudy and his brother Ernest opened Brothers Collateral in 1980. And from then until today, it has been a fixture in the neighborhood…as have Rudy and Myrna, who moved their family to Hancock Park in 1986, and have been very active in organizations like the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council, Hancock Park Homeowners’ Association, Windsor Square Hancock Park Historical Society, and more.
Sadly, however, after 40 years, the store is now winding down. Gintel’s mother – who was the bookkeeper for the business – passed away not long ago, and Rudy and Ernest decided that it’s time for the business to sunset as well.
Like many brick and mortar stores, Gintel says, his has faced challenges from newer models of retail sales. Today, he said, people tend to shop for very specific items…in their underwear…at a keyboard. But his store, he says, is different: people don’t come in looking for a specific item. They like to browse, and “we have 40 years of accumulation” for them to look at.
The store’s inventory has been acquired in various ways – some items are purchased outright from people who come into the shop (Gintel says many customers have inherited things they don’t want), some are things that were traded for other things in the store, and a few (though fewer than you might think) are left over from loans the shop made that were not paid back. (In fact, Gintel said that about 95% of those loans – which are made for a term of 4 months and 10 days, by law – are paid back and the pawned items reclaimed after the loan period.)
As with many pawn shops, Gintel says jewelry is his main business, but the other kinds of items he handles actually interest him more.
And variety is part of that interest. For example, when asked about the most interesting item in the shop, Gintel doesn’t narrow things down. “Everyone has their own interests ,” he says. “What one person loves, others don’t.” Also, he says he doesn’t trade in cheap items. “I don’t sell things that are inexpensive when they’re used,” he told us. “I sell things that are expensive when they’re new and that are expensive when they’re used.” The key, he said, is looking for items that hold their value.
As at many pawn shops, of course, one of those categories is musical instruments, and one large category of customers is musicians — some of whom, according to Gintel, even use the store as informal storage for their instruments while they’re on the road.
There are also a number of unusual items to look at, including Mexican masks, old coins, and taxidermy. Lots of taxidermy. And, surprisingly, Gintel says the animals on display were all hunted by one person…who sold them to Brothers on the condition that they would never be re-sold. (A promise the Gintels have kept.)
The oldest item in Gintel’s collection is a carving of a dove, made from an olive branch, which he acquired during his first week in business, and never wanted to sell. (It carries the legend “Yerushalayim” – “Jerusalem,” in Hebrew – and is probably an old tourist souvenir, from the days before such things were mass produced.)
But in addition to the interesting items Gintel buys and sells, he says he also enjoys the customers, who span all walks of life. For example, he says a screenwriter, who used to rent an office in the building, once pawned his typewriter. And then there was the time a woman brought in a ring engraved with the name “Steveland” – it belonged to musical legend Stevie Wonder (whose real name is Steveland Hardaway Morris), and the woman was his mother, Lula Mae Hardaway.
Of course, one of the business’ most valuable assets is its building, which was built in 1930 and originally held a Cut Rate Drugs store. But both the building and the neighborhood have seen a lot of changes since then. For example, according to Gintel, before Brothers Collateral came along in 1980, the previous tenant was a photographer…and before that, the location was a “topless/bottmeless” bar. (It was a “rough area” back then, said Gintel.)
And then there’s the bright yellow hue – which has made the store an icon in both the local landscape and beyond. (It was even used, without Gintel’s knowledge initially, as a location in the massively popular “Grand Theft Auto” video game.) Gintel credits his wife and mother for that colorful idea. He says they thought the store needed something to make it stand out, and they noticed that fire hydrants, which need to be highly visible, are always painted either red or yellow. Yellow – the color of gold – is also considered to be good luck in some cultures.
In addition to Gintel’s shop, the building houses 18 offices in 6,000-8,000 square feet of space. Gintel says that’s a size desired by many entertainment-related businesses, and there is only one other building of equivalent size currently available in the area. Gintel also says the storefront could provide a great “billboard” for any company that chooses to locate there. “We interviewed a parade – a Thanksgiving parade – of brokers” interested in the property, said Gintel, but no decisions have been made so far.
Gintel says they’d like to liquidate the store within the next 2-4 months, but there’s no specific closure date. “Our back is not against the wall. It’ll happen when it happens,” he said. But a sort of informal clearance sale is already in progress. “The sale is now,” Gintel told the Buzz, and “the public will be taken care of” if customers come in looking for deals. Gintel says they may also have a “yard sale” at some point for some of the bulkier items, and then anything left over when they’re done will be sold to other dealers.
So what’s next for Gintel after the store closes? “It’s not next, it’s ongoing,” he says. In other words, his lifelong involvement with family will continue, but with a slightly different focus: his three grown children – and their children, Gintel’s grandkids – who are scattered across the country. In the meantime, though, the sunny yellow store is still open today, still full of fun things to browse, and there’s still plenty of time to shop this holiday season before Brothers Collateral slips below the horizon into history.