Keeping busy

This morning I went to the breakfast meeting of the Rotary Club of Upcountry Maui, to see two high schoolers receive the club’s Students of the Month awards. They were an impressive pair, and I will relay a little about them in a moment, but what I found noteworthy was the variety (and, apparently, also depth) of the opportunities students have today.

There was nothing close to it when I was in high school, 50 years ago.

Of course, not all students get the same opportunities. Money and transportation would prevent some. Babysitting obligations would stop others.

But the opportunities are there for both private and public school students.

It is nearly impossible, in some circles, to bring up the topic of education without being subjected to a tirade against public schools. And teachers. And unions.

I spent a lot of time on campus when my children were in high school, and what I saw was generally good. Certainly far better than the Catholic school I went to. I do not believe that anyone pushing vouchers has the interests of the students uppermost. And religious schools are, with some but not many exceptions, antieducational.

The selectees were Jamie Gomes from King Kekaulike High and Josh Higa from Kamehameha Schools Maui. As you can see from the photograph, happy-looking kids.

Jamie said she had been thinking of becoming a family physician until attending a boot camp at Berkeley last summer where she observed a knee operation and is now wondering if becoming an orthopedic surgeon wouldn’t be better.

She plays water polo and for her community service requirement has started Operation JAG (Jamie Against Bullying) to go to the community with a message. She would like to attend Oregon State and then Oregon University of Health Sciences medical school.

Josh wants to become a botanist, with an interest in native plants. He’s been learning about the Hawaiian uses of plants as medicine — la’au lapaau. He does judo and runs cross-country and is studying Japanese in school. He has been on reef and park cleaning trips.

He has Northern Arizona and Pacific on his college list.

There were quite a few other items on Jamie’s and Josh’s busy lists, and I asked Josh’s mother Terilyn if she worries about burnout. “Yes,” she said.

But I think the kids will be all right.

150 guitars in a DAY

I’ll say we are jealous, but then Maui is not Austin.

guitar2

This piece from the Austin Chronicle is one of the longest features about a pawnshop we’ve ever read, but the CashAmerica (formerly and famously Doc Holliday’s) shop on South Lamar is a different kind of cat. Austin’s huge music scene supports a huge instrument market:

If pawnshops hold rock & roll together, then the vast CashAmerica on South Lamar is what longtime employee Ian Doherty calls, “The big bottle of wood glue that holds all the broken guitars together. We make it happen for all the musicians who are struggling to get where they’re going. Even the really big-shot guys still have bills coming up.”

Maui’s music scene, while vibrant, is nowhere near as big as Austin’s where hundreds, if not thousands of bands play at SXSW, and the South Lamar shop claims to have sold 150 guitars on opening day one year.

 

guitar1

It is not made clear whether 150 bands showed up without guitars, or 150 kids were so inspired by the groove that they went right down and got their starter axes at CashAmerica.

Kamaaina Loan And Cash For Gold will not sell 150 guitars in a day. The two photographs show about two-thirds of our display inventory at 98 N. Market this morning. We like to think that our prices are as good as the musicians enjoy in Austin, and we can confirm that our pawnshop (52 N. Market, a few steps down the street from the guitars) has helped many a Maui musician between gigs pay the rent.

And here’s a pro trick you may not know. Quite a few musicians going on tour pawn their spare instruments. We store them in our bonded, insured warehouse. When the tour is over, the players reclaim their stuff, which is a lot safer way of ensuring their gear than leaving it behind and asking a friend to look after it.

 

#mauimusic #mauiguitar #mauipawn #mauiloan

 

A ‘blue feather’ day

At our Maui pawn shop a “blue feather day” is one when someone says, “Gee, it’s been ages since anybody brought in a nice 2-carat diamond,” and the door opens and in walks a nice 2-carat diamond.

alice

Or, as pawnbroker Stefen explains her blue feather day Thursday:

“I was working in 50 N.Market Street [where we sell golf clubs] on the new inventory system. While putting the new price tags on the golf clubs, I remarked to my co-worker Bob how nice a certain vintage set of clubs were. Bob then said that the clubs should go on eBay because it was gonna take a special person to buy those clubs because of their age.

“I noticed how nice the wood clubs were and said that they were the type of clubs Alice Cooper would appreciate since he’s bought vintage clubs from us before. Bob agreed and said that he thought Alice would like them as well, or maybe some kind of sporting club that could put them on display. After that, I went about finishing tagging the rest of the golf clubs and left to go do more work in another room.

“Not an hour later did Bob call me in the room I was working to tell me that Alice Cooper had just come in and bought those Vintage Clubs! I said ‘No way,’ but Bob told me that he had told Alice Cooper about the conversation we had just had about him and the clubs and Alice said, ‘They’re mine now.’ Both of us couldn’t believe that Alice Cooper had just come in and bought those clubs within an hour of us saying he should have them. What a coincidence huh?”

Big Rich picks up the story. “Alice Cooper visits the store from time to time, and he has bought things, not only clubs, before; but he doesn’t come in every week or every month.”

The clubs, a set of three woods in beautiful condition, had been around for a while (nobody remembers exactly how long) and had just been put out on retail display. “It’s like those clubs were calling, ‘Alice, Alice Cooper. Come by Kamaaina Loan, come by Kamaaina Loan.’ “

Rich adds, “You better believe we gave him a great price.”

Alice, of course, is a huge golf fan and even titled his autobiography, “Alice Cooper, Golf Monster.”

Canonization for Big Rich

When correspondent Emily Bott of Maui No Ka Oi magazine asked if she could do a profile of Big Rich for the November-December issue, Rich had no idea he’d be portrayed as the “St. Nick of Market Street.”

talk-story-pawn-shop-richard-dan

Emily riffed off the fact that Saint Nicholas is the patron of pawnbrokers (and sailors). She didn’t tell  Big Rich, however, about St. Nick’s other characteristic: Throwing bags of gold through the windows of poor fathers so they could provide doweries for their marriageable daughters.

Rich likes being St. Nick but he is not planning on throwing bags of gold through anybody’s window.

Nationally, 80 percent of pawnshop clientele reclaim their collateral on time. Dan’s average is 93 percent. “People pawn items they have an attachment to. They prefer to redeem them.” Dan makes it easy to do so. A wall filled with testimonials backs up his claim that “I hear ‘God bless you’ all the time.”

(Photo by Sue Hudelson, courtesy of Maui No Ka Oi magazine)

We see this happen, too

From  a summary of a new episode of “Hardcore Pawn,” set on a day when gold has taken a big drop (although the claim that it dropped 5% is bogus — that would be around $75 and gold doesn’t move that much in a day):

When a woman came into pawn her gold bracelet, she was told she could get $250. She had received $300 in the past for it and demanded the same. When she was told that the price of gold had dropped, she told the woman at the window that it was not her problem and wanted to see a manager. When Ashley came to confront her, she called her out to the parking lot, without Byron. Ashley handed her back her bracelet and told her to have a good day.

At our Maui pawn shop, we have a lot of customers who pawn the same item over and over. They know and we know what the loan value is, and writing up those loans goes really fast.

Maui is a tourist island, and plenty of workers in the visitor industry have busy and slow periods. They use pawn loans to smooth out their cash flow so they don’t get behind in  their bills.

Most of these regular customers are quite sophisticated about the value of their collateral. Unlike the lady in the “Hardcore Pawn” episode, they don’t get bent out of shape when they’re told they cannot get as much as usual.

On the other hand, sometimes when gold is rising, a Kamaaina Loan pawnbroker will be asked for, say, $100 and will check the New York gold price and say, “You know, you can get more for this now.”

Some take more, some say, “No, that’s all right. $100 is what I need.”

The really sophisticated ones recognize that some lendable items can lose a lot of their appeal overnight. This is true, for example, of video game systems. When the new Xbox or Playstation comes out, the old ones lose a lot of their value. Since the game system makers usually announce new versions well in advance, the value actually starts adjusting well before the new version is released.

What are they worth now?

What are they worth now?

Something similar happens with cellphones. They are very lendable, but every new version of the iPhone makes the old ones worth less. There have been so many versions of the iPod that it takes a maven to keep straight the market value of the various models and features.

Gold, silver and diamonds are less predictable. They aren’t coming out with a new version of gold.

Gold today is under $1,300 an ounce. It was over $1,300 a few days ago. No telling where it will be next week, particularly since the issue of the government shutdown is still unsettled as this is written.

 

Exploiting Native Hawaiians

Ian Lind (at ilind.net) has a good report from the trial of the Hawaiiloa Foundation  (which is on Oahu although the actions originated on Maui) and it is worth your time to read.

The Maui News has not caught up with this story.

Lind (a retired newspaper reporter now blogging local issues) examined some of the documents used to collect fees to “save” Hawaiians from having to pay mortgages. His conclusion:

Both claim to draw authority from a hodgepodge of sources from Hawaiian royal land patents to the Magna Carta, and both include an “Insurance and Indemnity Bond of Ownership” claiming to draw on $300 million “of lawful specie alloy or exchange in market currency” via the “Hawaiian Treasury: Waihona Waiwai, backed in gold, silver and national securities derived fro 33/1/3% kanaka vested lands, resources and rights.”

The two documents are essentially identical, with the appearance of a legalistic form filled with obscure and sometimes nonsensical gobbledygook.

– See more at: http://www.ilind.net/2013/10/11/on-scams-and-the-sovereignty-narrative/#comments

 

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

 

 

 

 

Too much aloha?

So, is this the reason our Maui pawn shop wasn’t selected for a reality TV show? Are we too nice, too?

A Washington pawnbroker who was approached  by a show producer didn’t make the grade:

 

With TV cameras following her throughout the day, she treated Jodi Flynn and the crew to a lesson in firearms and taser use. “We all had a wonderful time together for those few days, and Jodi really enjoyed herself.”

After several days of filming, Jodi phoned Nancy informing her that Ben’s Loan wouldn’t make the cut. The official verdict: “She’s just too nice.” 

Jodi explained that while Nancy treated her customers with compassion, her staff was extremely caring and professional, and her customers love her, it’s not the sort of thing that audiences come to expect from reality television.

Coming next, “Jerry Springer: Pawn Broker”?

Arizona loves to pawn

Nationwide,  about one American in 5 uses a pawn lender to raise cash, according to the private financial regulator FINRA.

But for some reason, in Arizona it’s 1 in 4.

Old West Indian trading posts were, among much else, pawn lenders. But there couldn’t be enough trading post business to account for the difference.

Our Maui pawn shop has active accounts for around 1 in 10 Maui residents. The FINRA survey asked whether respondents had used a pawn loan in the past 5 years.

There are other pawn shops on Maui besides Kamaaina Loan, and we have some turnover in customers over 5 years, so Maui people might be close to Arizonans in using pawn.

Nationwide, there’s more pawning in the South. But that’s because most Southern states raised the ceiling on interest, not because Southerners are specially attuned to pawning.

 

 

The TAT kabuki

Every year for the past two decades, the state Legislature considers whether to appropriate all or part of the counties’s share of the Transient Accommodations Tax. This is the tax imposed on visitor rooms, and it’s a virtually universal way that attractive destinations have to soaking tourists.

Hawaii’s TAT rate of a little over 9% is actually on the low side.

Still, because tourism makes up such  big part of our economy, the total take of TAT forms the second biggest fraction of Maui County’s government income, after property tax.

This year, in a newish wrinkle, the Legislature is also making noises about appropriating the utility franchise tax that has always gone to the counties. In an editorial, The Maui News called this piracy.

It is that, but it is also a form of kabuki, highly stylized theater. Every year, the four mayors rush to Honolulu to demand that the state keep its mitts off the county TAT money. As The Maui News said:

 

 

Last week, Mayor Alan Arakawa and County Council Chairwoman Gladys Baisa were at the Legislature testifying against SB 359, which is this year’s version of “Let’s Steal The Counties’ Shares” of the transient accommodations tax. A Friday story in The Maui News said the TAT is Maui County’s second largest revenue source at $20 million to $25 million.

Write, phone, text, email or send a smoke signal to our state legislators and tell them to stop these attempted raids on county budgets.

State and county governments are supposed to cooperate to solve problems. Constituents need to remind our state legislators they expect a partnership – not a looting of county coffers.

 

This may be the year, but never yet has the Legislature actually done much about grabbing the TAT money. What is really going on is that the Oahu-centric legislators make scary noises about grabbing the TAT, panicking the mayors, who then expend all their efforts during the short legislative session defending the TAT, rather than using their time to ask the state for help for their local issues.

This allows the Oahu senators and representatives to go ahead with their own local schemes without questioning from those pesky Neighbor Islanders.

This happens because of the big imbalance in size between state and any county, even the City and County of Honolulu. Losing the TAT would be a huge blow to a county, but picking up the few tens of millions would hardly show up in the multi-billion-dollar state budget.