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Amid racks of guitars and stacks of amplifiers at the Arizona Music Center hang autographed publicity photographs, the type most any music shop will accumulate over time.
They are the only stars smiling on the Arizona Music Center these days.
Virtually every picture is inscribed "To Ruby," matron of the family which presided over the shop for 33 years. Ruby Dominguez and her former husband built a venerable family business in a little strip shopping center wedged between the car dealerships on Glendale Avenue.
The couple's three children grew up with the business, including daughter Diana Lee, who inherited the family's musical bent and is now a popular local singer.
Ruby Dominguez, local musicians say, was the store's ambassador. She would cut them deals when they were struggling, and celebrate with them if they found success.
"She has been one of the fairest human beings I have ever dealt with," says Luis Estrada, a 66-year-old singer and disc jockey who has dealt with the store for more than a decade. "She might even lose a sale because she'd say, 'You don't need this.'"
But Ruby doesn't work here anymore.
Dominguez is now barred from entering the store, the apparent loser in a venomous battle under way for control of the Arizona Music Center's future.
The business is trying to reorganize under federal bankruptcy court protection, and Dominguez has found herself shunted aside--betrayed, she says--by two men she turned to for help in rocky financial times.
The two men, Donald Jeunette and Hyman Brazlin, promised to help her return the store to profitability and save the family legacy, she says. They promised her a job and a steady paycheck.
Instead, she says, Jeunette and Brazlin have taken over the store, leaving her broke, out of work and facing foreclosure on her home of 27 years.
"I'm just at the end of the line," says the 55-year-old Dominguez tearfully. "They won't even let me in the store. I've gotten involved with some dishonest people. They're doing everything they can to take my ready-made business of 33 years."
Jeunette and Brazlin counter that Dominguez is a victim of her own reckless stubbornness. She ran the business into the ground, they say, and salvaging it meant saving it from Dominguez.
On the verge of financial collapse, Dominguez willingly signed the papers giving them control of the store, Jeunette and Brazlin point out. Now, they say, she refuses to face the music.
"One thing you have to learn about Ruby is that she doesn't mind telling you lies," says Jeunette. "The lady is another Tammy Faye Bakker. She has raped this business for years. Ruby doesn't face reality."
Because Michael Milken and Charles Keating garnered all the national headlines when the high fliers went bust, it is easy to lose sight of the small entrepreneurs sinking in the economic backwash.
The remains of one music store may seem like small spoils in a city which has seen legions of attorneys and creditors argue about how to revive such crippled business titans as Circle K and America West Airlines.
But that does not make the ending any less bitter for Dominguez, who feels she has been taken advantage of by vultures who descended on her when she was weak.
"These people have literally destroyed me," she says. "It is like somebody sticking a knife in my heart."
@body:It was 1960 when Ruby Dominguez and her then-husband, Richard Lee Dominguez, opened their fledgling music business. Both were musicians playing in various Valley bands, she on steel guitar and he on lead guitar.
"Rock n' roll was getting popular back then," she says. "We opened our music store and combined it with a little, small recording studio."
At first, to make it go, the couple had to hold down other jobs. Ruby gave music lessons to schoolkids, and her husband worked in the parts department of a school-bus manufacturing plant, she says.
Richard Lee was as much tinkerer as musician. As the store took hold, he was able to quit the bus company and devote much of his time to musical gadgetry.
Within a few years, the store offered its own lines of electric drums, vibratones and reverb amplifiers. The clientele grew until the store employed more than 30 people selling instruments and music, building the company's brand equipment and offering music lessons to hundreds of students.
"At one time, teaching for her, I had 63 students a week," says Red Crossett, a lifelong cornet and slide trombone player.
Ruby had music in her blood, local musicians say, and would look after her customers. She was especially supportive of Latin and Hispanic bands.
"Arizona Music Center was the cornerstone for a lot of the Latin musicians in this area," says Luis Estrada.
Crossett says his story typifies Ruby's generosity. He came to Phoenix 21 years ago, he says, a 59-year-old brass player with asthma who was told by his doctor to move to the desert or die.