By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
"I was broke when I hit town," he says. "She gave me a job the first day I got here, and I worked for her for 21 years."
At 80 years old, Crossett is still teaching and playing, and thanks Ruby for it. "I know she's helped a lot of people. I can certainly say that for me," he says. "When I hit town, I didn't know anybody, and she saved an old man's life."
Along the way, the couple's two daughters and son were brought into the business, growing up in the shadows of Peavey amps and Fender guitars.
In the late 1970s, Richard Lee grew disillusioned that none of his musical equipment had brought riches to the store. The small amplifier factory had to be closed and contracts for producing other devices did not materialize, Ruby Dominguez says.
Her husband quit making musical instruments and began experimenting with solar-lighting equipment. The couple split in 1980 and divorced in 1981, and Dominguez says she bought out his share of the business for about $250,000.
"We were still doing real well, because business was booming," she says.
For almost ten years, the store continued to prosper, she says. But in the late 1980s, the recession came to Arizona and events turned the store's financial tides red.
For part of 1989, Dominguez says, traffic through her store was cut off because Glendale Avenue was under construction and customers could not reach her.
Then one of the store's banks went into federal receivership and about $50,000 in credit-card transactions were never posted to the store's account.
A longtime accountant, Dominguez claims, may have been skimming from the company, although no civil or criminal actions were ever brought.
The store was on the ropes. Suppliers weren't being paid, the Peavey company wouldn't renew the store's contract to sell its amplifiers--a huge chunk of Ruby's business--and unpaid taxes were piling up.
Dominguez took out a second mortgage on her home to keep the store afloat. She pulled down money from a retirement account.
In 1991, Dominguez sold part of the business to Valley guitarist Tracy Williams, who had started taking music lessons at the store when he was 11 years old.
Williams bought the store's band-instrument and sheet-music concessions, which he still operates as a separate business housed in the Arizona Music Center building. Williams says Dominguez had dug herself a deep hole, and that not just the economy was to blame.
"She was over $400,000 in debt at that time," Williams says. "She had no control over her business."
Last year, needing more cash, Dominguez sold Williams the building where the store is located and leased space back from him.
Ultimately, Dominguez says, she sank more than $200,000 of her own money into the business, hoping to float it off the rocky shoals. She has stacks of canceled checks, ranging from several hundred to tens of thousands of dollars, showing money she funneled from her personal accounts into the store.
It didn't work. By last fall, the Internal Revenue Service was poised to padlock the doors because of overdue withholding taxes, and Dominguez was desperate.
"I did not want to go bankrupt," she says. "I did not want them to close me down."
About to be dragged under by the unpaid tax bills, Dominguez found herself turning for help to a guitar student of the store that she barely knew, Donald Jeunette.
@body:Donald Jeunette is 57 years old, and says he has been a businessman since he was 17. Although he will not discuss his business history in detail, Jeunette says that, in his lifetime, he has owned or managed a gas station, pastry shops, a garage and a software company.
At the time he and Dominguez began discussing the Arizona Music Center's precarious finances, Jeunette says, he was working as an "independent paralegal."
"I know what it is like to make a lot of money and what it is like to go broke" is the testament Jeunette offers to his business acumen.
He also knows what it is like to land in court. Since 1980, court records show, Jeunette has filed for bankruptcy himself--in 1981--been sued eight times in Maricopa County Superior Court and had several default judgments entered against him.
The lawsuits range from an unpaid furniture loan and credit-card bill to disputes over unpaid bills from Jeunette's previous businesses.
In 1980, for instance, three business partners won a summary judgment against Jeunette for about $33,000 in loans that Jeunette had taken from them and never paid back.
In 1983, one of Jeunette's landlords was awarded $2,800 after he failed to pay the rent on an office.
Also in 1983, Jeunette and the garage he was then running, Don and Sons Automotive, was sued for $19,000 by an equipment company that claimed it had not been paid for an engine analyzer Jeunette leased from it. The suit was later dismissed because the equipment company did not press it.
Throughout the lawsuits, Don Jeunette was not Don Jeunette. He was Donald G. Proctor. In 1987, Proctor, his wife and their daughter legally changed their last names to Jeunette.
Jeunette dismisses the lawsuits as the normal lot of a small businessman. The name change, he says, was a "personal thing." He was born Don Jeunette and received the last name Proctor from a stepfather. In 1987, he says, "I decided I wanted my name as it was on my birth certificate."