From Tulsa People Dot Com
Tight economic times, as well as two popular reality TV shows, have spurred renewed interest in a longtime buying- and-selling industry: pawnshops.
By Matt Gleason
A few days before Christmas, Jennifer Langham peered into the jewelry case at Golden Pawn II, a sprawling 14,000-square-foot pawnshop just north of Cherry Street. Closing time was approaching on this Tuesday evening, but the recently engaged 23-year-old was set on buying her fiancé, Michael Hood, his own engagement ring.
“I thought it was a neat idea to get him a ring, (too),” she says.
At the same time, Hood was prowling the store for a prize not measured in karats but in gauges — 12 of them.
Of course, a shotgun isn’t forever, like the diamonds on Langham’s impressive engagement ring, which the couple also purchased at a pawnshop.
The future Mr. and Mrs. Hood could have purchased Langham’s engagement ring at a high-end jewelry store, but the allure of a bargain was difficult to resist.
For dedicated pawnshoppers, these are department stores unlike any other.
Where else can patrons shop for jewelry just a few steps away from an arsenal of weapons and a classic arcade-style “Centipede” machine? Or perhaps tools, golf clubs, guitars or fine art?
“I actually got it 50-percent off,” Langham says proudly of her ring, which she estimates would have cost 10 times more at a traditional jewelry store. “I do kind of have expensive taste, but it’s just as nice as any ring that would come from anywhere else.”
A cyclical industry
Finding incredible pawnshop deals like Langham’s could be attributed to the current economic crisis. Since 2007, 30 million Americans annually pawn everything from electronics to jewelry to secure short-term loans that do not affect their credit history, according to the National Pawnbrokers Association (NPA).
Most are average-income adults working in regular jobs who need the extra cash to cover basics such as the electric bill, the rent or a tank of gas, according to the NPA. The organization notes that the average pawn loan in 2010 was $100, up from $80 in 2008.
According to a report from the Oklahoma Department of Consumer Credit, 32 pawn brokers were operating in Tulsa as of November 2011, with a total of 319 active, licensed pawn brokers operating in Oklahoma.
In Tulsa, Kelly Knowlton is a local authority on pawnshops. He owns Golden Pawn II and two Tulsa County Pawn locations. The 61-year-old also serves as president of the Oklahoma Pawnbrokers Association.
Since the economic downturn began more than four years ago, Knowlton estimates that Golden Pawn II has had a 10 percent to 20 percent increase in business, with more people pawning items. Knowlton looks for the three Gs when buying merchandise — guitars, guns and gold.
Over at Second Hand Rose Pawn Shop, located on East Third Street, John Brazil has also witnessed the pawn business change.
Brazil, who has worked at the store for 35 years, says, “Unlike what people think, our business tracks right along with the economy. When the economy is down, sales are down and loans are up.”
Ray Rose is another fixture of the local pawn business. He is a member of the Rose family, which has owned several local pawnshops since Rose Co. Pawn Shop opened in 1912, and Rose Co. Pawn Shop remains in downtown Tulsa at 316 E. Second St., with Rose behind the counter.
“We’re kind of cyclical,” Rose says of the pawn industry, “so sometimes we do better in hard times; it just depends.”
Additionally, pawnshops are attracting more first-time middle-class customers, pawnbrokers say.
In late December, Anthony Littlejohn, a 28-year-old Army veteran who served in Iraq, had just taken a job delivering for Pizza Hut in his Jeep Compass.
Trouble was, he soon needed to replace a tire, but he was low on cash and several days away from a paycheck.
With no other option to cover the unexpected tire expense, Littlejohn pawned his 40-inch television and his desktop computer for a $250 loan from Golden Pawn II. Soon he was back to work and no longer driving on a spare tire.
“Middle-class America is pawning more because of the economy,” says Knowlton, of Golden Pawn II. “I think if they get a speeding ticket, or anything unexpected, they come here and pawn a guitar, or whatever, to get enough money to get them by.”
Tony Mills, founder of Big Time Pawn on East 11th Street, says, “You see a new mix of a lot of people who have never been in a pawnshop in their life, but they come through now (to sell items) because they hit on hard times.”
Small-business owners, especially those in the construction business, are a part of the growing customer base, Knowlton says.
“They come to pawn whatever they can to make payroll for next Friday,” he says. “They’ll come in and pawn a truck, or some of the tools they don’t need, and get a $1,000 or $1,500 loan.”
Dee Ann McHenry, owner of Big Time Pawn, has noticed an increase in older customers who pawn.
“The retirees are just not able to make it on their retirement income,” she says. “Twelve years ago, we hardly had any elderly people come in.”
Mills recalls a woman in her 60s who had a valuable ring she often pawned, but every time her children came to town for a visit, she hurried to get it out of pawn.
“Then I guess she ran into some bad luck,” Mills says. “We didn’t hear from her for over a year, but we still kept her ring in the back.
“Finally, she called us and wanted to know if the ring was for sale. She started crying when we told her she could have the ring back for what she owed us. She was so thankful. It was pretty rewarding.”