When people pawn things, theyve got four months and 10 days to get them, but when we buy items, we hold them for 40 days until cleared by law enforcement to ensure the stuff hasnt been stolen. Then we can dispose of it. For people like that young family, the pawn option is just a whole lot better. And I always want people to know the full range of options. Ive been through my own share of challenges, and I try to remember my own humanity when Im dealing with customers.
Working in Oroville, did Daniels see people pawning stuff because of losses at the casinos there?
I just dont see that as a driving force, she said. More often, we see customers coming in whove had a win and theyre looking to go shopping. Its not all tears and sad stories, Daniels adds. Its like a curio shop.
Women pawn their rings, Batha said, and then when they come back to get em out, theyll want to upgrade.
Besser hadnt said much throughout the interview, so I asked him if he had anything to add from the male perspective.
I think Ive lost my male perspective, he joked. I work in a little room with Danielle all day. And I like to think of myself as a compassionate and reasonable person. Were out to help people, and we want everyone to come out a winner.
My cynicism asserted itself, and I brought up the fact that they also engage in the business of making payday-advance loans at astronomical rates of interest.
We dont like the payday advance, either, Batha said, and I always tell customers how expensive those loans are, and I try to steer them to cheaper money, especially if they have something they can pawn.
Daniels nodded her assent. But, dont forget, she added, if youre just trying to squeak by until payday, and you need a tank of gas just to make it to work, that loan can be worth the interest paid, especially if you pay it off on payday. The problem comes for people when they start rollin em, taking out a new loan to pay down the last one. That can get people in deep trouble.
We offer a set of options, Batha explained. Some people just dont have anyone at all they can turn to for help. And we always try to steer them to pawning things rather than taking out payday advances. But for some people, when they use it carefully, a payday loan can be a workable solution to a temporary problem.
How about that fancy and expensive cowboy hat? Did they get many items of that kind?
We dont deal so much in super high-end merchandise, Besser answered, but we do get some surprises. Weve had musical instruments that have been pretty valuable, but we havent had that 1953 Les Paul guitar come through the door yet. We did get a very rare clarinet not long ago.
And how much of the stuff that people pawn is never reclaimed?
The number of people who dont come back to get their stuff is very small, Daniels said, something like 5 percent. Most things are redeemed from 10 days to four months after theyre pawned.
And she wanted it known that, though most people dont think of pawnshop operators as particularly community-minded, the two stores are contributors to community radio and active sponsors of local sports, including the Oroville soccer team.
A historian named Wendy Woloson recently published a surprisingly interesting book called In Hock: Pawning in America from Independence through the Great Depression. Commenting on that book, a reviewer observed: Surrounded on all sides by predatory lenders, rapid refund tax shops, and multinational credit card companies charging interest on interest, we might stop to notice the lowly pawnbroker. Unlike those other firms, pawnbrokers provide clear information about loan terms; they are explicit on the interest rate and any additional fees being charged, when the loan will come due, and how much money in total is required to retrieve collateral.
Wolosons research led her to conclude that far from being antagonistic and exploitative transactions, exchanges of objects for short-term loans have often been cooperative interactions, rooted in trust between the working poor who were trying to meet their needs and pawnbrokers who were trying to make a living.
That was precisely the impression I garnered after talking to Batha, Daniels and Besser, three local pawn stars whose daily reality may be similar to, but is quite different from, what viewers may have seen on TV or in the movies.
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