From the Kansas City Star
“Moore & Son,” 30 Years and Still Going StrongApril 4, 2014
By Sheriff Bill Crowe, Contributor
Donald “Big Don” Moore walks into Sonny’s Diner in downtown Independence, on the corner of Ronald Reagan Drive and Sycamore Lane with the same warm smile he’s used to greet this town’s residents for more than 30 years. His laugh is bellowing, the air of cigar smoke that hovers around his head is enticing, his handshake is as firm as ever, and I’m lucky enough to call him my friend. He orders a cup of coffee, which he lets me know is his third of the day with a sly wink, and chili cheese fries with double the meat. He calls it his “usual.”
Big Don has been a resident of Independence, MO since his birth to parents Jackson and Ella, also lifelong residents of our town. The Vietnam veteran seems determined to prove that age is just a number, continuing to live life as a man of half his age. Big Don is still active in the community as a member of the city council, Joplin’s chapter of the Elk Lodge, and once a month you can hear him shredding sweet guitar solos with local band Dusted Sand (fronted by yours truly).
Thirty years ago this April, Big Don opened his pawnshop in the center of town to little fanfare. Nobody said it out loud back in ’84, but folks had a hard enough time keeping their jobs, let alone opening their own business. A pawnshop seemed an odd choice for those who weren’t close to Big Don, but for those who were it made a lot of sense. Big Don has been a collector of trinkets and oddities his whole life (his fabled whistle collection is whispered about in many parts of the country), and a store that thrives on the accumulation of goods quickly became a profitable fit for Big Don. “Moore & Son” was founded by Big Don along with his wife, Judith. Together with their young son Donald “Little Don/Donnie” Moore Jr., the three laid the foundation for a business that prides itself on honest business. If you are looking to buy, sell, or get a loan, “Moore & Son” is still the place to go. When it came time for the interview, Big Don was all smiles and answers, as usual.
Kansas City Star: Thirty years is no small accomplishment. What is the secret to keeping a business running for so long?
Big Don: Well, if I told you, it wouldn’t be a secret anymore, would it? That’s something people don’t get, and why I think a lot of new businesses fail. There is no secret. Starting your own business isn’t a sprint; it’s a long marathon. Hopefully one of the longest ones you’ll ever run. I guess you get to hoping that marriage, fatherhood and living are the only marathons you run that outlast the business one. But if you treat them all as the same kind of race, that’s not bad business either. It’s a constant conversation, it requires a [expletive deleted] load of work, and it never gets easier. The benefits, though? Man, they just keep rolling in. They never stop. Each day is better than the last.
Kansas City Star: Was there ever a time when it appeared the establishment might not survive an economic downturn?
Big Don: Oh man, at least once a year. I mean, every business hits a few potholes, and there were definitely nights when I thought I was locking up for the last time. But we’ve always managed to pull through. It’s an unfortunate side effect of the business and of plain old living, but folks go through big losses all the time. And more often than not, those poor folks need cash quick, so they bring some of their most precious things to us. Some of the stories we’ve heard from customers would make you want to curl up in a ball and cry until you’ve got nothing left. But we also managed to give those folks a fair price for their prized possessions, and I think it helped them take the first step back towards normal. As much as it [expletive deleted] hurts to hear the story behind an object, customers usually leave the place happier and lighter on their feet than when they walked in.
Kansas City Star: On a lighter note, you have amassed a staggering collection of antiques and knick-knacks over the last three decades. What is the strangest possession a customer has tried to pawn or sell?
Big Don: (laughing) Oh, sweet Jesus, the bizarre [expletive deleted] that people have tried to pass off on us! People have brought in costume jewelry, broken china, and a live animal or two thinking they were worth as much as the Crown Jewels. One guy tried to sell us a ferret that chased Donnie into the back room and trapped him there until animal control arrived. But by far, the weirdest thing someone tried to sell us was a full-size gatling gun. We’ve gotten some amazing military relics, what with the air base so close to town, but this guy couldn’t even get it through the front door without cracking the frame. After that, we never took anything brought to us if it couldn’t fit through the front door. Anything that size just meant trouble.
Kansas City Star: “Moore & Son” has always been a family operation. How has that affected the store’s success?
Big Don: Oh, it’s been essential. To have had the opportunity to work so closely with my wife and my two sons [Big Don’s son from another relationship, Brian O’Donnell, has been working in the store for almost 10 years now] has been the greatest blessing in my life. Judith is the glue that holds the store together, because without her we wouldn’t have made it through those first few years. She’s a real whiz when it comes to dealing with the customers, something I had to warm up to, believe it or not. Donnie was in and out of the shop all through school before moving to Seattle a few years back, and Brian came at a great time because he was able to really dedicate all his time to the shop. These days the three of us, Judith, Brian, and myself, are each an essential component to the success of the store. Without even one of us, the store would have a real hard time moving forward.
Kansas City Star: What are the next thirty years going to be like for “Moore & Son.”
Big Don: (laughs) Well, that’s one [expletive deleted] of a question. The next 30 years…I’ll be what, 93? I guess things will be a lot like they are now, only I hope I won’t be around. 93 seems an awful big number. Too big, if you ask me. If you find someone who lives to 93, you’ll find someone who didn’t spend enough time enjoying their life. But I bet you “Moore & Son” will still be around. Donnie or Brian are bound to have a kid of their own someday that is interested in guitars and whistles and pawn shops, and they’ll take over the store. Or maybe they won’t and the store will close. I’d be okay with that, too. The good things in life stay around for a long time, but the great ones have their time in the sun before melting away. If this place melted away one day, I guess that would mean we did a great thing for a while.
With that Big Don gave a look at the time— he still tells it by an old pocket watch— and said he would have to get going. There were a few things that needed wrapping up at the shop and he had date night with his wife. They were going to a movie before stopping by the recreational center to see his son Brian’s friend’s band, Zombie Piss, play a set. “Moore & Son,” 30 years and still going strong. It makes this writer glad to see someone who still might be in the prime of his life. It makes us all feel a little younger, and it makes life seem just a little brighter.
Bill Crowe has been the Sheriff of Independence, MO for 20 years, where he has lived his whole life. His wife, Betty, is president of the Stone Church Booster Club, where he sings with the Missouri State Runner Up Stone Church Chorus. He recently completed his first novel, which is being considered by major publishers. He has been contributing to the Kansas City Star for 10 years.
If you'd like to learn more about these people and this town, you can purchase tickets to Wombat Theatre Co.'s Moore & Sons. Tickets are available for purchase here: http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/617971 and here: www.wombattheatre.org
Moore & Sons runs April 17, 18, 19, 25, 26 @ 8pm April 19 @ 2pm April 27 @ 3:30pm at 133rd St. Arts Center