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Bargains await at pawnshops

Wed., Dec. 13, 2006

Christmas is a hectic season for retail managers. Ken Craudell’s job is no different.

For nearly 10 years, he’s managed a pawnshop on East Sprague. During the first two weeks of December, most of the people patronizing the Double Eagle Pawn Shop are looking for small loans to tide them over the holidays.

As the month progresses, however, the client mix changes. Christmas shoppers start surging through the doors, looking for that great gift at discount. On Dec. 24, Craudell and his crew are expecting 500 to 1,000 last-minute shoppers. Not surprisingly, electronics and jewelry top their list. And don’t forget the occasional toy.

Toys aren’t a specialty at Double Eagle. With a large selection of firearms and walls covered with mounted deer and elk heads, the pawnshop has the feel of a sporting goods store. But when Josh Conrath spied a cute little four-wheeler at the Double Eagle, a certain tyke came to mind.

“I have a 4-year-old boy and he’s getting ready for his own 4-wheeler,” said Conrath recently, as he hunted through a selection of used CDs, looking for Neil Diamond favorites. “My kids are really into that outdoor stuff.”

The ring of cash registers is as crucial for pawnshops as other retailers during the month of December, said David Adelman, vice president of the National Pawnbrokers Association in Roanoke, Texas.

“We gear up like everybody else,” he said. For some pawnbrokers, that means stocking shelves with new items to help round out the inventory. For others, it’s marketing pawnshops as an alternative to the mall experience. Nationwide, only about 20 percent of the adult population has patronized a pawnshop, according to Adelman.

“We’re always looking for ways to draw in the other 80 percent,” he said.

Whatever the approach, there’s always one given, according to Adelman.

“Everyone that comes into a pawnshop is looking for a bargain,” he said. “We give it to them.”

At the Double Eagle, Craudell said shoppers can expect to pay one-half to two-thirds of what the item would cost new, unless it’s a collectible. “We use the Internet as a research tool” for pricing, he said.

PlayStation 2 and Xboxes are high-demand items at Christmas time, along with TVs, DVDs and CDs. Vintage video games are also popular, Craudell said. People remember playing Nintendo and Super Nintendo as kids. Pawnshops are one of the few places you can find those games now, he said.

Double Eagle also sells a handful of mounted animal heads over the holidays. The purchasers are usually tourists, who want the mounts as “rustic décor” for cabins or lake homes, Craudell said. Mounts start around $150 and can range up to $2,000.

Pawnshops work with local law enforcement to avoid stolen goods, Craudell added. Every item brought in for sale or pawn must be entered electronically into a police data base within 24 hours, he said.

Art Adams recently bought a Christmas present at Axel’s Pawn Shop, which is also on Sprague Avenue. For $12, the Spokane Valley mechanic picked up an older Ford manual for his friend.

“He has a 1967 Ford truck and this covers it,” Adams explained.

Adams stops by Axel’s about once a week, checking out what’s new. In the past, he’s purchased Christmas jewelry for both his wife and his sisters at the store.

“I’ve never pawned anything in my life, but I’ve bought lots of things here,” Adams said. “It’s more fun than walking through Sears…It’s a lot more affordable.”

Axel’s does its highest volume of retail sales during the fourth quarter, said Larry Karlson, co-owner of the store.

“On Black Friday and Saturday, most people focus on the malls,” Karlson said, referring to the days following Thanksgiving. “But we also did very well, more so than previous years.”

He gets a broad range of customer requests at Christmas. “They may be looking for a guitar for the kids or a diamond for the spouse or a tool set,” he said.

But part of the beauty of shopping at a pawnshop is finding the unexpected, he said.

Last year, Karlson sold an electric impact wrench to a woman who gave it to her father for Christmas. At $150, it was about half the price of a new one, he said.

The present was such a hit, that the whole family adopted a new gift-giving theme.

“They’re only giving used items this year,” Karlson said.


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