Matt Driscoll

Matt Driscoll: Mourning the Mayor of Hilltop

Rand Chiarovano
Rand Chiarovano

Any conversation of Tacoma’s Rand Chiarovano usually ends up at one description.

The Mayor of Hilltop.

As co-owner of Hilltop Loans and owner of the building the pawn shop anchors, Chiarovano became something of an institution in the City of Destiny, known for the stability he brought to the once-maligned neighborhood and the abundant generosity he frequently displayed to fellow Tacomans.

So it is no surprise that news of 61-year-old Chiarovano’s unexpected death has sent shock waves through Tacoma, on social media and in the many local haunts he frequented.

“Tough day,” said Hilltop Loans co-owner Kenton Dale on Monday. Dale described himself as “not just (Chiarovano’s) business partner, but his best friend.”

Chiarovano and Dale purchased Hilltop Loans nearly 16 years ago. The pawn shop, at the corner of South 11th Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Way in the Courtney Building, occupies a prominent spot in the neighborhood.

He was incredible. He just cared, and always wanted to help people. I think it was just the person he was. That’s why he was the mayor.

Kenton Dale, co-owner of Hilltop Loans

Jodi Baarstad-Chiarovano, Rand’s wife, said her husband died after suffering head trauma in an accident Friday while he was working on the Courtney Building. As we talked on Tuesday, she remembered the time they spent together, recalling their passion for jewelry making, music and travel. In recent years, she said, the couple visited China, Hong Kong and Indonesia, among other destinations.

“Honestly, we had so much fun,” Baarstad-Chiarovano said. “Most people don’t have that much fun in an entire lifetime.”

Chiarovano was kept on life support through the weekend because he was an organ donor.

“At 61, he still had a few things left to give,” Baarstad-Chiarovano said.

It was a final act of generosity that surprised no one.

Mario Lorenz, manager of the Hilltop Business Association, recalled how, in the aftermath late last year of the senseless murder of Steven Speakman, a developmentally disabled 26-year-old, Chiarovano offered Speakman’s grieving family a place to stay in the apartments above his pawn shop.

“He was incredible. He just cared, and always wanted to help people,” Dale said. “I think it was just the person he was. That’s why he was the mayor.”

While Chiarovano’s death is a blow to the city, many said the void will be particularly felt on Hilltop. Chiarovano, born and raised in Tacoma, not only operated businesses on the Hilltop, but lived there. He served the neighborhood in many capacities, including on the board of the Hilltop Business Association.

“I can’t even remember all the boards he was on,” Baarstad-Chiarovano said. “He loved the Hilltop, and so do I.”

Chiarovano was a major player in the neighborhood’s long-term revitalization efforts.

“He’s been a longtime steady advocate for the Hilltop, even before it was cool and popular,” said Hilltop Business Association President Kevin Grossman. “He was a good steady advocate for the Hilltop for a long time.”

“I think he’s a cornerstone, because of his stability,” Lorenz said. “He’s always there. He keeps the lights on, you know?”

City Councilman Marty Campbell, who befriended Chiarovano during his time owning and operating Buzzards Discs, said Monday that Chiarovano became known for bringing an “important voice, and a well-reasoned voice” to any discussion of Hilltop’s renewal.

“I felt that he was someone who really was part of the community, really understood what was going on on his block and beyond,” Campbell said.

Campbell said Chiarovano, through his work at Hilltop Loans, provided “that last bit of financial hope for a lot of people.”

“I also saw him as someone who always … met someone where they were at. He never had judgment on people, and was always very willing to work with anyone,” Campbell said.

I’m very saddened. Because it wasn’t his time to die.

Morris McCollum, owner of the Hilltop men’s clothing store Mr. Mac Ltd.

“The pawn shop business is sometimes a little maligned,” Campbell said. “But the truth is, when you talk to many of the owners, day in and day out they are really helping people who are living paycheck to paycheck manage their finances.”

Chiarovano’s sudden death leaves some searching for answers.

“I’m very saddened. Because it wasn’t his time to die,” said Morris McCollum, proprietor of the iconic Hilltop men’s clothing store Mr. Mac Ltd.

“That’s the thing about death,” McCollum said. “You never know when you’re going to be called.”

The Mayor of Hilltop was called this week. And with him went a piece of Tacoma’s soul.