Can you pawn wine?


Not at our Maui pawn shop, where gold, watches, surfboards and fine art are accepted. But Kamaaina Loan would need a license from the Maui County Department of Liquor Control to make a loan on wine.

But just because you cannot do it here does not mean it cannot be done. According to this report, a few pawn shops are in the business of lending on fine wines.

They have to be stored properly:

The market here was investment-grade wines with good provenance that have been stored at a secure climate-controlled facility. The wine acts as security for a loan equal to a percentage of its market value. Pay back the loan and get back the wine (which may not have physically moved from the wine warehouse when it is stored). Fail to pay the loan and the pawn shop owns the wine.

And, no, you cannot raise scratch on your carefully hoarded collection of Mad Dog 20-20. Anywhere.

When the late Dick Tuell was auctioning off abandoned property, he would occasionally spot a half bottle of whiskey. (Yes, people do put whiskey in storage.) He was always scrupulous in saying that the bids for the storage locker did not include the booze. That was thrown in free, to avoid violating the county’s licensing law.


We admire a fake

Yesterday found us around the desk admiring a phony Mexican 50-peso gold coin.

A customer had offered to sell it, along with a fistful of pre-1964 US silver coins, which were genuine and which we did buy.

Mexican 50-peso golds, real or fake, are not rare, and we do not stop to admire them. But this fake was a beauty. It looked right. It felt right. It weighed the right amount. If it had been real, it would have been worth well over $1,000.

It would have fooled most people, which, of course, what somebody had designed it to do. But it did not fool the go/no go gauge, which is almost the court of last resort when it comes to checking coins. (The last resort is cutting into the coin for acid testing; which if the coin has — or is supposed to have — collector value you do not want to do.)

The run-of-the-mill fake gold coin is made by forming a mold from a genuine coin, then pouring in molten metal while the mold spins rapidly. This spreads the metal to the farthest reaches of the mold,  but it also leaves a gradient that is obvious at a glance to a trained eye.

It will fool most of the people most of the time, which is good enough most of the time.

This fake, however, was struck on a die, the way genuine coins are made. It takes a pretty hefty die to make coins, so the spin mold method is easier for counterfeiters. This one had a perfect “boardwalk,” the flat area next to the milled edge, which tilts in a spun coin. Every detail was crisp as only a die-struck coin can be.

However, however the die was made, it was not exactly the right size. (Getting the weight exactly right is difficult, too, but not impossible.)

It is very common, when we are brought counterfeit coins, to have them come in along with genuine ones. It is unlikely that the customer made his high-class coin; or than anybody on Maui is striking such good fakes. We cannot tell, but when someone brings in a fake, it is usually most likely that they are victims, not con artists.

It is not a pleasant part of the pawnshop business to tell a customer that he has presented you a phony coin. The implication is either, “You are a crook” or “You are gullible.”

In  the first instance, you don’t want his return business; but in the second, you do (at least if he brings in better goods next time). But who can tell?

The moral of this story is: Know who you are buying from. The fakes are getting better and better.

The next item of business yesterday was a “collection” of bottles, including some wine bottles that could have been brought the day before yesterday at the grocery store, with wine in them. Some of the older bottles were potentially collectible but chipped. The whole collection was valueless. At least to us.

The next item after that was in a way the exact opposite of the fake gold coin: a small jade necklace. It was real but also valueless. You can buy these trinkets from vendors at Waikiki for a dollar or two.

Sometimes it’s a relief when a customer brings in a fishing reel. Its gears may be worn out, and it may or may not be worth hundreds of dollars, but at least you don’t have to wonder if it’s “reel.”

The real McCoy

The real McCoy





90% of life is just showing up

Or 100% for a man named KK Ho, who lost his job but kept showing up anyway, pretending to be a bond trader. The Bloomberg News story does not explain how, or if, Ho got income from showing up.

I recall a story, from 40 years ago, about a guy who lost his job, which was something in demand, aerospace engineering or something like that. The story did not explain why, since the field was good, he didn’t just get another job; but instead he made a sort of a living for a couple of years by sending out resumes.

In those days, men with his background were sought after, so employers would send him plane tickets to come to an interview. He cashed the tickets and drove instead, living off the difference.

But the story of the parking lot attendant who just showed up and after years disappeared with millions is urban legend, according to

I feel sorry for the other Mr. KK Ho, who may (or may not, who knows?) be a legit trader in the same city. Bloomberg could not satisfy itself about that. But with only 100 Chinese surnames, and a fairly limited roster of given names or initials, the possibilities for confusion in an increasingly connected Chinese working population appear to be enormous.

It’s bad enough with the US Office of Foreign Asset Control, which keeps a list of foreigners with whom designated businesses (mostly financial, including our Maui pawnshop) cannot trade. Not even to buy a $10 silver ring.

There are a lot of alleged drug dealers on the list, and if one Juan Garcia in Colombia comes to the attention of the DEA, then Kamaaina Loan is forbidden to deal with any Juan Garcia, unless we can prove ours is not the DEA’s.

Not easy to do.

Does Macy’s tell Gimbel’s?

We don’t know. But according to The New York Times, EZ Pawn does tell Tiffany’s.

It’s been a rough few weeks for Tiffany’s. First a vice president was charged with stealing over a million dollars worth of jewelry. Next a customer wearing a riding cap (whatever that is) grabs nearly $100,000 worth of jewelry from a clerk and runs out.

The store got his picture on surveillance camera but, so far, not him.

EZ Pawn, well known in New York because it has lots of ads in the subways, offers advice to Tiffany’s (which has been in business since 1837 and you’d think wouldn’t need it) on how not to get robbed.

One thing that the Tiffany clerk did that even rookies are taught not to do is to take out two items for inspection at the same time. It’s tedious, sometimes, but most jewelers put one piece back before taking out another.

For 9,999 out of 10,000 customers, it’s an irritation. For that 10,000th one, who’s looking to grab and run, it’s a wise precaution. Maui readers may recall the crook who grabbed a $65,000 Rolex and ran from a Wailea jeweler a few years ago.

He didn’t get away  but he did create plenty pilikia.

At our Maui pawn shop, we follow most of the tried-and-true precautions that EZ Pawn recommended to Tiffany’s. But one we don’t:

Ms. Simon said that when a customer entered, she looked at his shoes. If they are tightly laced, that is a sign of trouble: “They’re a runner,” she said. It was pointed out to her that a couple of customers were, at that moment, wearing tightly laced shoes and seemed innocent enough. She shrugged.

Most of our customers wear slippers.IMG_1041

More good press for pawn shops

A ReutersMoney feature discovers (again) that well-to-do people use pawn shops for short-term loans. Pawnbrokers like to emphasize this, because so many people are convinced that all our customers are fences, derelicts and down-and-outers.

When Marc Kaye needed a loan to fund his boutique insurance firm at a time when payroll, his kids’ college tuition and a mortgage payment were all draining his cash reserves, he didn’t go to a bank.

Instead, he pulled a 1940s Picasso pencil drawing off his living room wall and made an appointment with Borro, a high-end pawnbroker. Borro did not require mounds of paperwork, did not care about his credit rating and did not put him through the third degree over how the money would be used.

“I needed some immediate cash,” says Kaye, who quickly got a six-month loan of $39,500, agreeing to a monthly interest rate of 3 percent plus about $175 in processing fees. “I had never pawned anything before.”

Nothing really new here. Even our little Maui pawn  shop has made a loan on a Picasso. It doesn’t happen every day, but it happens perhaps more often than you would think.

That’s the great thing about pawnbrokers. They are completely democratic.

Well, maybe not completely. Because some customers don’t want to be seen in a pawnshop, either because they are embarrassed or because they don’t want anyone to know money is tight, many brokers — including Beverly Loan Co., mentioned in the story and famous among Hollywood stars as a place to get a discreet hit of cash — have set up private transaction rooms, with secluded entrances.

At Beverly Loan Co., a brick-and-mortar pawn business outside Los Angeles that has catered to the wealthy for 75 years, business is also brisk, and small business customers are on the rise, says owner Jordan Tabach-Bank.

To meet demand for loans ranging from a few thousand dollars to $1 million, he opened a second office in the New York City’s International Gem Tower; it offers well-heeled customers secure storage for everything from GIA-certified diamonds to Patek Philippe watches.

Kamaaina Loan has a private transaction room, too. We go further. Call for an appointment, and if the deal sounds big enough, we’ll send a limo to pick you up.

In  reality, our private transaction room is used  at least as much for appraisals to help conservators settle estates as it is for pawn loans.  (Since the owner is a court-recognized appraiser.)

And not necessarily only for high-value deals. As Jimi, who has been working our pawn counter for longer than anybody except our owner, Big Rich, points out, sometimes a customer comes in with 50 items, all different, that he wants to borrow on (or sell).

That’s awkward to do on the counter, so usually that bargaining ends up in the private transaction room, where there is room to spread out. (Think about offering a collection or coins or stamps. It takes time and space to go through a big assortment.)diamond

Should you be interested in the private transaction room, call for an appointment, 242-5555.


Education of a pawnbroker

In principle, pawnbroking is simple. The borrower presents some portable collateral and the lender gives him money. Later, they settle up and reverse the exchange. If the borrower can’t pay, the broker keeps the collateral and tries to sell it to recoup his loss.

And most of the time, it is pretty simple. Probably three-quarters of the deals at Kamaaina Loan And Cash For Gold’s Maui pawn shop are for gold in one form or another, or silver  or other precious metals. Most of the rest are for familiar items like Playstations, iPods, surfboards or fishing poles.

But the residue? Some curious stuff comes over the counter.

A good place to find it in at 50 N. Market St., where we sell fishing gear, golf clubs and tools. Most of the tools are common enough: battery-powered drills are probably the most numerous item these days. (Corded drills are becoming rarities, almost.) But ask Bob to show you around and you’ll likely encounter a tool you not only don’t have but never heard of.

Today’s exhibit is a professional grout scrubber. Yes, it was new to  Bob, too. Turns out that for a big tiling job, with several tilers laying down tiles, it pays to have one worker follow behind them cleaning up the new floor with a power scrubber and massive sponge.

The one we have is made by Rubi, and while it’s used, our price is less than a third of the price for a new Rubi Spomatic 250 Electric Sponge.

That’s why it pays to stick your head in the door every few weeks, even if you’re not shopping for anything in particular. You never know when we’ll have something you never knew you couldn’t live without.

Words we like to hear

Kamaaina Loan blog often grouses about the difference we perceive between how we see ourselves (and other pawnshops) and how the public sees us. Basically, the unpleasant guy played by Rod Steiger in “The Pawnbroker.”

So we were pleased to see reporter Jaime O’Neill in the Chico (Calif.) News & Review go out and see for himself. He, too, started with the Rod Steiger view, as he says,

I pitched this piece thinking it would provide the opportunity to write a hard-edged slice of Oroville noir focused on pawnshops where down-and-outers went from the Indian casinos to the pawnshops to hock their dead mothers’ wedding rings for a few pennies on the dollar, hoping to get enough money to return to the casinos and feed the slots once more, chasing the chimera of winning their money back so they could make the rent.

He was surprised.

Though it may be true that such scenarios get played out somewhere in the nexus between hard times and pawnshops, that wasn’t the story I found when I sat down to interview Danielle Batha, Chris Daniels and Gary Besser before business hours on a recent Thursday morning.

Instead, he found a pretty pawnbroker selling whole mammoth tusks and $5,000 Stetsons and not too much about busted gamblers hocking rings. Rather,

“I just don’t see that as a driving force,” she said. “More often, we see customers coming in who’ve had a win and they’re looking to go shopping. It’s not all tears and sad stories,” Daniels adds. “It’s like a curio shop.”


It’s quite a long piece, in fact the longest story about a pawnshop we’ve ever seen in a newspaper, and bouncy and positive, so of course we liked it.

As we have observed often, all pawnshops are different.  At Kamaaina Loan, our pawnbrokers are not kept behind thick plexiglass windows like in Oroville.

“We’re putting out the message that we’re not victims, and not about to be victimized,” Daniels answered. “We want customers to know that this is a very safe and secure place, and that stuff they pawn with us will be here when they come back to get it.”


Lucky we live Maui. On Maui, the post office clerks also deal across an open counter. If you don’t travel, you won’t know how different things are on the Mainland.

Not everywhere, but in some places, the United States Post Office is so afraid of its customers that a sliding, bulletproof glass is raised for you to put your money through, then lowered, while a second sliding, bulletproof glass on the clerk’s side is raised for him to take it.

But the basic dealings are pretty much the same at pawnshops in the Wild West of Oroville and the mild west of Maui:

“One of the things I’ve liked about working here,” Daniels added, “is how often people are grateful for the help we’re able to offer them.”

Batha nodded. “Our women customers tend to be really sweet people,” she added. “Lots of the people we do business with are single moms trying to get to the end of the week. They’ll bring in jewelry or laptops. Sometimes it’s for just enough money to fill the gas tank.”




The story of a pawn shop chain

Lots of America’s pawn shops are one-outlet businesses, but there are chains, too. Here’s a feature about a fast-growing chain in the Southeast.

We find it interesting because the interviewer asked about “the seedy reputation of the pawn business.”

Rather than pretending it doesn’t exist, more and more pawn businesses are tackling this issue in public.  (Maybe it helps that the reputation of non-fringe lenders has gotten more seedy since 2008.)

Anyhow, Robbie Whitten has a good, succinct response to that question:

We’ve been fighting negative images for years. Pawn shops can be kind of shady, but the reality TV shows have been a big boost to the industry and its reputation. Now a lot of mom-and-pop shops are cleaning up their stores to take advantage of the interest.

There are a lot of new customers coming in who say they’ve never been in a pawn shop and want to check it out. We don’t want them to feel like they’re in a pawn shop. On one side we want them to think they’re in a fine jewelry store, and in the sporting goods section we want them to think they’re in a Bass Pro shop, with a department store in between.


Later in the interview, Whitten says:

There are lots of guys, like real-estate agents, who were making six figures that are now living on 40 grand. They can’t borrow $3,000 or $4,000 from the bank anymore–they just don’t make those types of personal loans. The term we like to use in the industry is “underbanked.” But these people have lots of nice tangible assets. They might have a Rolex or a $500 Ping driver they can sell.


That’s where Kamaaina Loan gets a lot of its resale merchandise. We even have a Private Viewing Room for customers who (we think) are either embarrassed to be seen in the pawn lobby or, perhaps, don;t want to be seen making a $50,000 cash transaction.

Economists list pawn shops as “fringe banking” institutions, because they serve what Whitten calls the “underbanked.” At least a quarter of Americans don’t have an account with a commercial bank. And not all of them are wearing Rolexes.

We prefer to think of ourselves as the most democratic of all “banks.” If your income is $100,00o-plus, we’ll be happy to serve you. And if it’s $10,0o0-minus, we’ll be happy to serve you.



Parking, parking, who’s got the parking?

North Market Street is a great place to do business in many ways, but it was even better before the county started eliminating parking spaces.

Saturday, Kamaaina Loan sent an observer out to see what more parking means for business. The locale: the Upcountry farmers market.

The market used to be held at the Eddie Tam Community Center, which has maybe a dozen parking stalls. And it used to attract about 6 vendors and perhaps two dozen customers over the course of a couple of hours every Saturday morning.

If somebody was setting up the meeting room in the center for a baby luau or birthday party, which was usually the case, there was even less parking.

Over a year ago, for reasons unrelated to parking, the market was moved to the private parking lot next to Longs at Kulamalu Town Center.

It took a while for people to get used to it, but nowadays, the farmers market draws at least 5o vendors and we don’t know how many customers. But last Saturday, the parking lot — we didn’t count, but it has probably 300-400 stalls — was full. Overfull.

People wanting to get at the locally-made jellies, just-picked avocados, fresh greens and sausage biscuits (among many other things) had to park along the access road, and the overflow of cars reached nearly to Maikalani (the offices of the Institute for Astronomy).

We cannot think of a clearer example of what you need for business stimulation.





And soon, a daily pawn show in cable TV

America’s thirst for pawn shops shows appears to be limitless. History, truTV and TLC already produce a variety of weekly shows. Now, CMT has announced a daily show, to be called “Win or Lose Pawn.”

A publicity photo shows a palm tree, but evidently this is not going to be Hawaii’s entry in the pawn TV derby. The show is being cast in Southern California, and Television Blend reports that its producers are looking for “two sorts of people: those who are looking to pawn an item and those who simply want to get an appraisal of a, hopefully big ticket, item.”

Sounds real. That’s what happens every day in Kamaaina Loan’s pawn shop.

“Win or Lose Pawn” is being birthed by a producer known for shows such as “Shark Tank.” Television Blend, however, is skeptical:

This show is coming at the wrong end of the pawn shop phase and I only see a long, hard road ahead.

Hey, here’s an idea, Hollywood. How about a pawn shop show that instead of being concocted and staged and produced, shows what really happens in a pawn shop. We think it would be interesting. You know, not reality, but real.