'Pawn Stars' Talk About the Pawn Shop Revival

NEW YORK (MainStreet) — It’s hard to not attribute some of the uptick in business that pawn shops across the country are experiencing to the widely popular reality show on the History Channel, Pawn Stars.

The series documents life at The Gold & Silver Pawn Shop, a family-owned and operated business in Las Vegas. It also features a steady stream of customers trying to cash in on what they’re hoping is a valuable collector’s item, a subject that has particular resonance given the current economic climate.

But, while executive producer Brent Montgomery acknowledges that the show may have played a part in changing the public’s perception of pawn shops, he also believes that the industry in general benefits from a renewed need for what “up until the ’50s was a real banking tool for a majority of Americans.”

“The pawn business is one of the few that can be inversely affected to the rest of the economy,” he says, explaining that shop owners get more people looking for loans and shopping for discounted merchandise than selling their treasure when times get tough.

MainStreet talked to Rick Harrison, one of the show’s stars and America’s most famous pawn shop owner, to get a better idea about how his business model has changed during the past few years.

MainStreet: Pawn shops say they’ve experienced an uptick in business during the past few years. Do you think this is because of your show or our current economic climate?

Rick Harrison: Not sure you could peg the uptick in pawn shops to Pawn Stars directly. But, I think the image of pawn shops has drastically improved with the show's success. More people are curious about their local pawn shops. Also, pawn shops still have a huge play with consumers who are lacking credit and need quick loans. So, I'm sure you could peg it to the economy as well.

MainStreet: Does anyone ever come into the Gold & Silver Pawn Shop to actually pawn anything? On the show, it seems like customers just want to sell.

Harrison: Yes, our business is hugely reliant on pawns. We just don't show the pawns on television because it tends not to be the fun, historic, cool items. People are generally pawning DVD players or watches or even the title to their cars! And they don't generally want to be on camera talking about why they need to pawn something for quick cash.

MainStreet: Is the bulk of a pawn shop’s profits driven by interest on those loans or returns on the items the shop resells? 

Harrison: Bulk is made through both pawns and sales. Pawns bring us revenue through the loan interest. And resells can either sell quickly (if there's a market or demand) or sit on the shelves forever waiting for that certain collector to buy!

MainStreet: You can get a pretty good sense from the show which items are really worth money, but which do you now have zero interest in?

Harrison: I have zero interest in anything that I cannot make a profit on! If I can make a profit on something, I will buy it!

MainStreet: What’s the most common item people come in looking to pawn or sell? Has that changed over time?

Harrison: It changes over the years. For example, everyone used to pawn their VCR players.  Now, it's DVD and iPads. More people are selling me the funky/historic items that I love since the show has premiered, which is great for business. People know that my shop is like an antique store in many rights.

For more of what you’re likely to find at your local pawn shop, check out MainStreet’s article on how to shop your local pawn shop!

—For the best rates on loans, bank accounts and credit cards, enter your ZIP code at BankingMyWay.com.

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