Dick's co-owner Lynda Peterson sits at a picnic table, her fingernails painted in sparkly Fourth of July colors, seagulls squawking around for stray French fries.
She's been at this spot, at this restaurant, off and on, for a half-century. She was here in 1967, as an 18-year-old fast food employee. She remembers that year as riots broke out across the country, and as fights broke out in the Dick's parking lot.
She was here during the heyday of "tooling" — young people cruising in their cars, blasting music and clogging parking lots — when Dick's stayed open as late as 4 am. The drinking, vandalism, and behavior from toolers got so bad that cops cracked down with a special task force in 1979.
"It affected us a little bit," Peterson says. "We started closing earlier."
She was here in the late '80s, she says, during the heyday of Dick's.
"The volume here was crazy," Peterson says. "Sometimes we couldn't even see the street."
As she talks, I sip on a salted caramel milkshake. I grab handfuls of fish and chips. I don't bother dipping them in tartar sauce or ketchup. They're good enough there's no need. The buildings around Dick's have been demolished, rebuilt, remodeled and refurbished. But Dick's has remained, unwavering.
"When I first started working here, the burgers were 19 cents," she says. Today, they're around $1.49. But adjust that number for inflation? The burgers are still 19 cents.
The eats remain cheap. The staples remain the same. The fish and chips. The milkshakes. The Whammy burgers.
No frozen fries. No frozen meats.
Yes, in 2016, Peterson finally grudgingly gave in to allowing customers to pay by credit cards — "It was a pain in the arse," she says — but remains defiant against the high-tech tap-in-your-order point-of-sale system that most fast food restaurants use these days.
"We don't follow trends," she says.
But for all her pride about Dick's, Peterson is also weary of the challenges. She says it's never been as tough as it is right now.
As housing prices have spiked, American cities have struggled to deal with the resulting wave of homelessness. Dick's is only two blocks away from Spokane's biggest homeless shelter. Peterson says that in the last few years the impact on businesses like hers has been the worst it's ever been. Drug users, she says, would shoot up in the bathroom.
"We've had needles, feces on the wall, blood on the wall," Peterson says. Ultimately, Peterson says, they decided to shutter access to the bathroom and replace it with a Porta Potty. But that Porta Potty still gets abused — clothes get stuffed in, needles get dumped in it.
"It's getting to a point that it's not fun anymore," Peterson says.
She says one thing keeps her going.
"The reason I stay here is because of my boss," Peterson says. "The integrity that he had."
That boss, Dick's founder Abe Miller, died back in 2007. He was the man who trained her, who mentored her. He taught her about treating people well, no matter who they were or where they came from.
She recalls one day, when there was a transient who'd fallen asleep in their bathroom — in the days before they had to close it down. She had to crawl underneath the stall to wake him up to get him out of there. But then he walked right into their back door and fell asleep at their break table.
"Shall I get him out of there?" Peterson recalls asking her boss.
"No, just let him sleep," Miller responded.
Miller's most visible legacy is on the corner of Division and Third, where everyone who takes the Interstate 90 exit is greeted by the Dick's Hamburger sign featuring a panda feeding a burger to the chicken and the "Burgers by the Bagfull" slogan.
But Miller's other legacy is sitting under that sign: a business owner whose values of hard work, humility and compassion he helped shape for over 50 years. ♦
Dick's Hamburgers • 10 E. Third, Spokane • Open Mon-Thu 8 am-10 pm, Fri-Sat 8 am-midnight, Sun 9 am-10 pm • 747-2481