written by Michelle Riddle
Nestled in the shadows of Mt Rainier sits a small hometown style community named Bonney Lake, Washington. Bonney Lake is a sleepy little suburb of Seattle, where the makeup is as diverse as it gets. In 2012 it was one of the fastest growing communities in Washington State. About that same time a young woman moved into the area with a fiery passion to stake out a claim for herself and create a lifestyle that promoted all the things she was passionate about. Melissa Denny was that young woman. Fast forward 7 ½ years later, and she is doing exactly that.
Upon arriving in Bonney Lake, she carefully and painstakingly, searched for the perfect location to start her empire. She had dreams of opening a pawn shop that served the community by offering fair loans, a distinctive selection of firearms and jewelry that would be more unique and better valued then any other jeweler around. To Melissa’s advantage her father had also owned a pawn shop while she was growing up, and although he would only give her the role of “Superintendent of Windex”, she listened, watched and learned not only the nuances of running a pawn shop, but it was in those days she started to sculpt out what her vision would include and how it would function.
After viewing endless possibilities for a location only to end up at dead ends, the perfect property was finally found. A Diamond in the rough! Deciding upon a former nightclub/restaurant, that was frequently the main topic of complaints at city council meetings. After much deliberation to negotiate a seller contract to purchase the land and buildings in the future, Melissa finally had her birthplace. The birthplace of PISTOL ANNIES JEWELRY AND PAWN. You can often find Melissa sharing the tales of those beginning days when she opened her doors with no real inventory to speak of and a modest $23,000 for loans. Preparation to open was grueling and costly. Despite the obstacles, Melissa pushed on, as she always does. She took a desperate situation and made it affordable, by using 100 yr. old reclaimed wood from a Seattle building to custom fabricate her gun counter and the accenting counters around the jewelry side perimeter. She painstakingly searched for the best she could afford and repurposed many of the items she used. The ultimate prize is evident when you walk through the doors at Pistol Annie’s as your eyes are filled with images that make you smile instantly. It’s a bit like coming home or stepping into a familiar place that makes you feel like staying awhile.
In those first years Melissa worked seven days a week open to close behind the counter, meeting members of the community and developing relationships. The first years, as you can imagine, were financially challenged and extremely stressful. Never quite knowing if payroll would be met this month, or if the company would run out of money to loan, never really knowing what would happen one day to the next. Those in the Pawn industry can certainly attest to the motto of, “you NEVER know what will walk in the door on any given day”. In those early years, Pistol Annie’s nurtured the relationships that were forming and began gaining the public’s trust for fairness, compassion, good deals and savvy negotiating.
Now, almost eight years later, the struggle and hard work of the past has evolved into much more than Melissa ever envisioned in her father’s store while cleaning the glass on the jewelry counter. Today, Pistol Annie’s has a very strong and loyal customer base of both firearms and jewelry. A pawn business that has one of the highest repeat loan bases of any pawn shop, and has developed into a custom design house for one of a kind jewelry, inspired by the owner’s imagination. A very real passion for Melissa is in the protection of second amendment rights and has formed a nonprofit that currently has over 1.6 million followers and is a very pronounced voice in Washington State.
At the start of 2020, big plans for the year were drafted, and no one would be able to predict the chaos that now surrounds the “Biggest Little Pawn Shop in the Wild Wild West” as Pistol Annie’s has become nicknamed. In adapting to the new world of COVID 19, Melissa and her staff delivered safe “curbside” service to their customer base without ever missing a beat. The staff “store quarantined,” came to work in the morning, and went directly to their home in the evening. If a staff member was exposed to anyone beside the members of their homes and their family members at the shop, they had an immediate 14 day paid quarantine. Melissa did this to keep not only her staff protected, but also her beloved customers. No sooner had plans been made and the refreshing of the shop completed, when Pistol Annie’s focus yet again was diverted. On Memorial Day, 2020, while meeting with her General Manager at the shop and preparing for a re-open to the public, a series of very serious and real threats of looting and burglary presented themselves. The possibility of looting the hundreds of firearms and ammunition housed inside was real and action was needed to protect Pistol Annie’s clients. The surrounding community, and the very foundation of all Melissa had painstakingly fought for this past decade came together. Only because of the services provided and the community of customers served, has Pistol Annie’s not only remained untouched, but is a force to be reckoned with. Upon receiving calls with intel on the dangers the biggest little shop could face, Melissa got on the world wide web and reached out. In a matter of minutes men and women of all walks of life showed up to stand not just beside, but IN FRONT of Melissa and her shop to protect it and their small town from anyone with ill intentions. They came seventy plus strong and stayed guarding through the night. Twenty-six days later, they are still there and have been making shift changes and watching out over their little homegrown shop from those that wish to harm it. The caring and concerned members of the community stop by daily to care for the watchers, with food, coffee, full home cooked meals and everything else you can imagine. Those that know Pistol Annie’s, and those that are beginning to know Pistol Annie’s, can all testify to one thing. Melissa is a Force that is unstoppable. She has been in her parking lot with her group of protectors for each and every night shift. Leaving only after the sun has risen and the staff has arrived, only to go home to sleep for a few hours before returning at close of business to sit protecting through the night. A woman with such fortitude and heart is rare … “A Diamond in the Rough”