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Unconventional income

Thu., Nov. 27, 2008

Pawn shops do brisk business in tough times

When the economy is going down the drain, jobs are being cut and credit is running out just before the holidays, shoppers get creative.

Local pawnbrokers are seeing more business, and it’s going both ways: more people pawn items, and more people shop secondhand to stretch their budgets.

“We see more people unload luxury items, such as the second or the third television,” said Doug Karlson, who owns Axel’s Pawn Shop together with his brother, Larry Karlson. “And we see more shoppers. When times are tighter they don’t mind as much if the TV is used.”

For those not strapped for cash, now is a great time to search pawn shops for big ticket items, such as video game systems, hunting rifles and jewelry.

“Construction business is down, so we don’t see as many tools as we used to,” said Ken Craudell, manager of Double Eagle Pawn on East Sprague. “Jewelry and guns are really big right now.”

Jewelry and guns are also some of the items that hold their value the best, making for bigger loans. A loan typically runs between 20 and 25 percent of what the pawned item sold for new. You can pay it back, with interest, within 90 days.

“We see more people looking for higher-dollar loans,” said Craudell. “It used to be they needed money for gas or an electric bill. Now it is bigger amounts for a mortgage payment or rent.”

Craudell said another reason for the boom in firearms business is that some worry the Obama administration will crack down on gun ownership.

“People may want a certain type of weapon, and they want to get it now because they are afraid it will get outlawed,” Craudell said.

Stereotypes about a pawnshop customer as being someone who’s slightly suspect, unemployed and without a permanent address don’t hold true.

“Most of our customers are employed, yet they live paycheck to paycheck,” Karlson said. “They get so relieved when they realize they can default at a pawn shop and it doesn’t affect their credit.”

He adds that many loaners come in because they need money for health care bills.

“I’m telling you, health care is a scary one for a lot of people,” said Karlson.

More people are also turning grandma’s gold necklaces and earrings into cash.

“We see more people who want to turn gold and silver into cash than we did a year and a half ago,” said Nick Crocker, owner of the Coin Corner on East Trent in Millwood. “Prices are better today than they were six months ago. I look at myself as a recycler – I recycle precious metals.”

Crocker adds that more people also buy gold and silver in bars.

“They want to guard against an unstable economy, and yes, they are scared of the government,” Crocker said. It’s his experience that many people keep their gold stash at home.

“I tell them to keep it at the bank, or get a safe, and to put a security system on their house,” Crocker said, “but of course I don’t know if they listen.”

Reach Pia Hallenberg Christensen at 459-5427 or


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