Pawn 101: Pawn shops get more respect

As an old newspaperman, it pains me to say it, but TeeVee is capable of performing feats — so far as public opinion goes– that print just cannot match. Case in point: Making pawn  shops respectable in the public eye.

We have mentioned a couple of times that Fender has a “Pawn Shop Special” line of instruments and amplifiers, but while this shows a certain degree of respect, it is not general. Rather, the theme seems to be that musicians, who unless they hit the big time lead a rather hand-to-mouth life, rely on finds of still-good but cheap equipment in the retail departments of pawn shops. Nice but not a full-throated endorsement of the place of pawn shops as bankers to those abandoned or ignored by the big financial institutions; or even of just the convenience of no-credit-check, no-hassle (as we say in our Maui pawn shop: NO HUMBUG) borrowing.

(For context, there are other businesses that are so chancy that in a sense new entrants rely on the lack of success of previous risk-takers. Restaurants have a very high closure rate, much higher even that the generally high failure rate for all small businesses. So there is always a lot of used equipment for sale: professional refrigerators, mixers, coolers etc. Since it’s commercial-grade, it tends to be rugged and if it hasn’t been abused,   reliable. But the depreciation rate is worse than for cars. We have seen a commercial mixer, in good shape, that goes new for $60,000 go at auction for about a grand. Some pawn shop operators do get involved in used restaurant equipment. Kamaaina Loan occasionally buys at foreclosure auctions, rather than direct from restaurateurs or as forfeitures on loans — most collateral we accept is hand-carried to the counter, not possible with most restaurant equipment — and resells to new hopefuls. But it seems unlikely that Hobart will be coming out with a “Pawn Shop Special” line of slicers. There’s no inherent reason that musicians should feel more attuned to shopping at pawn  shops than hot dog-stand owners, but they do.)

Which brings us to today’s special pawn shop news, a real breakthrough — as we see it — in the image of pawn, and due largely to the impact of reality pawn shows, especially top-rated “Pawn Stars.”

In fact, the Pawn Stars are the stars of the new TV commercial by Microsoft that uses Rick of  “Pawn Stars” to bash Google Chromebooks. The theme is that a used Chromebook is not worth anything to a pawnbroker because it’s “not a real laptop.” This digs at Chromebooks’ bargain-basement approach which means it can do work if you are on-line but not so much if you are not connected to the Web.

Well, being used as authority for dissing other brands is not quite in the league of being called the Cadillac or Tiffany of whatever, but it’s a big step up from being seen as the resort of down-and-outers and burglars.

The way we see it, pawn shops haven ‘t changed very much. Most Americans have  never been inside one. Maybe one in four have used pawn shops for one purpose or another. TeeVee has given the rest of them a look inside, and what they saw was far different from what they saw when Rod Steiger played
The Pawnbroker.”

All this could lead to some long thoughts about how mass opinion gets formed. No question the movie “The Pawnbroker” had as much to do as any other episode to form the public reputation of the pawn business, even if nine out of 10 Americans never saw it.

But the ones who did spread the meme of pawnbrokers as avaricious, hard and unscrupulous. Nine out of 10 Americans have never watched “Pawn Stars,” either, but the one-tenth have brought it up in conversations with friends, and print and on-line media have written about the phenomenon. So that a new ingredient in the froth of public perception has been added, and overall a positive one.

Thanks, Rick.