“I was thereto buy a pistol, she was there to hock her ring. The broker in that pawn shop deals in almost anything. He’ll pay you for your misery or he’ll sell you someone’s pain, and that twinkle in his greedy eyes says you’ll also be his game.”
Conway Twitty sang those “Saturday Night Special” lyrics a quarter-century ago and, according to local pawnbrokers, it’s a longstanding stereotype they’d soon like to erase.
“I look at us as a new-style bank,” said Walt Mauro, regional manager for Top Dollar Pawn, which opened its fourth store nearly four months ago on North Academy Boulevard. It’s the second Top Dollar location in Colorado Springs. “We give out loans when banks won’t or can’t because we don’t have to follow the same guidelines. We can loan to anybody as long as they have collateral.”
Frank Menanno, owner of the Let’s Make a Deal pawn shop on Austin Bluffs Parkway, said his store helps people while bridging an important gap.
“We do small loans to people in need,” Menanno said. “Pawn shops have gotten a bad rap over the last 60 years in America because of how they are used in music and movies, but there are people who need money to get by until their next paycheck. We are bankers to people in need. You wouldn’t believe how thankful people are because we are a last resort in this economy.”
Menanno said banks won’t consider many loans today unless you have a “home or a boat” as collateral.
“If you go into a bank with a diamond ring and ask for a loan, they’ll laugh at you,” he said. “We’ll give you a loan on a guitar.”
The concept is simple and ancient. Pawn shops will hold items of value in exchange for a loan. Menanno said his interest rate is among the lowest in the business — 10 percent for loans over $50 and 20 percent for loans less than $50. After 30 days, customers can pick up their item or items and pay the interest, or they can keep the cash and forfeit ownership of the item to the pawn shop.
Mauro said the intent is usually not to keep the pawned items for later sale.
“We care about our customers. We want them to get their stuff back,” he said. “We don’t want them to get stuck in a cycle they can’t get out of.”
Mauro added the sudden rise of pawn shops within pop culture, including the History Channel’s popular show Pawn Stars, means more families walking through their doors than in years past.
“It’s now more of a family event,” he explained. “Before you wouldn’t bring your family into a pawn shop. Now families are in all the time. We have something for everybody. Our stores are bigger and we can take in a little bit of everything.”
Menanno said his customers have grown savvier through technology and television.
“A lot of people like to haggle,” he said. “I hold nothing against someone who lowballs me. … I enjoy it. Sometimes I think some customers should be working for me.”
Right side of the fence
Menanno said negative hype surrounding pawn shops often involves stolen goods. “Lots of people come in here and ask if this stuff is stolen,” he said. “We report weekly to police everything that comes in here.”
Mauro said, by law, they are required to record all items’ descriptions and serial numbers.
“Most crooks won’t bring things to a pawn shop anymore,” Mauro said. “It’s a felony to sell stolen goods to a pawn shop. … Now thieves just sell items on Craigslist.”
Menanno said pawn shops are less likely to sell stolen goods than a garage sale or flea market.
“There is nobody in the United States who returns more stolen things to homeowners than pawn shops,” he said. “We have a great system to catch some of the thieves who are stupid enough to come in here. Stolen items are less than 1 percent of everything that comes in.”
Menanno said a short list of questions usually weeds out the riffraff.
“We ask simple things like where they got the item and how it works,” he said. “And, if I tell you how much I’ll give you for it and you’re kind of mad at me, I know it’s yours.”
Justin Green, owner of the North Academy Boulevard consignment store Stop, Drop & Shop, said his model is “the pawn shop alternative.” Green buys, sells and trades used items and sells new items as well.
“We sell stuff for people,” Green said, adding his shop does not provide loans. “If you’re going to trade or sell outright … we’re pretty close to pawn shop pricing. But if we’re taking the risk, we require a little more of a reward.”
Green said the store takes 25 percent on in-store consignments unless it’s a firearm — his most-sought-after merchandise — which is consigned at 10 percent. Green also provides Internet consignment sales.
“We’ll pay all the fees, but we won’t list anything that won’t sell,” he said. “Generally, if the customer brings the item in, we’ll evaluate it in front of them, show them what the average sale price is going to be and let them make up their mind.”
Green said sales tax and credit card fees are figured into the display price.
“What you see is what you pay,” he said. “There are no hidden fees or surprises. The only thing we don’t include in our price, and we’re upfront about it, is the $10 the state charges us to run a background check.”
Green said, at his store, consigners will receive no less than 50 percent of the item’s resale value.
“If you’re smart and you do a consignment and you price your item right, we can have your cash within a week and, if it’s from the store, you walk with 75 percent,” he said.
Green said his store is small, but he moves a lot of volume.
“It’s a big-box mentality in a tiny store,” he said, adding his model is not for those looking to get back their items.
“But if you have something you’re not using and you want to get rid of it and you need cash or want to upgrade or downgrade to something else, we’re a good alternative.”