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Pawnbroker

Sob stories worked on me in the beginning. They really did. I'd shed tears with people over their stuff. I'd be like: "Here's an extra $20." They wouldn't have nothing — a bucket of rusty tools — and I'd say: "Here ya go." But doing this kind of hardens your heart after awhile. You get used to hearing all the sad stories. They don't want to listen to mine.

I've had folks try to sell and pawn all kinds of strange things over the years. One time, a woman pawned herself — come in and stripped down nekkid right there. She didn't say a word. My partner said, "That ought to be worth $5." She said, "Thank you," took the money and left. A woman come in the other day and offered to pull her gold tooth with a pair of pliers and sell it to me. One guy pawned his prosthetic arm — his right arm. He was in a pool tournament at the time. He pawned his arm and went back to the pool hall. Didn't place in the money, but he came back and got his arm two hours later. The other day, I got a call about pawning a prosthetic eye.

When people's houses get robbed, the police usually tell them to go look for their stuff in pawnshops, but that's the most ridiculous thing in the world. We get a lot of people who come in saying, "I got robbed, here's what they took," and they want to look around. But most of the thieves nowadays know that we work with the police with Leads Online. It's a national system, and if we put in a serial number for something that's stolen, it pops up and they come get it. Everything that comes in here gets put in the computer so the police can find it if it's stolen. But there's really nothing to keep a pawnbroker who wanted to from not putting it in the computer. We work all in cash. It's just our morals that make us do it.

If something comes up in Leads Online, we have to let the owner buy the item back for what we paid for it. We lose money, because we don't get the interest, but that's the law. What bugs me is that the law-abiding citizen doesn't realize that if they'll record all their serial numbers and then give them to the police when things get stolen, they can get their stuff back if we get it. When people come in looking, I always ask them: did you record the serial number of the $3,000 TV that got stolen? The answer most of the time is no.

I have pawned some things I believed to be stolen, sometimes just to get them off the street. A few years back, a couple of young men came in with some guns and they were covered in mud, like they'd been thrown in a ditch. I talked to my partner and he told me, "Get 'em as cheap as you can. They're hotter than hell." We ended up buying them and getting them back to their rightful owner because he'd recorded his serial numbers.

We turn away a lot of stuff we think is stolen. If a guy comes in with a laptop, turns it on, and doesn't know the password, that's a dead giveaway it's probably hot. When some crackhead comes in with a Gibson Les Paul guitar, you know that's probably not his. But there are times when a deal is just too good to pass up, even when you know. When a guy is asking $50 for an expensive amp or something, I'll think, "It's probably hotter than hell, but let's do it." It's either I buy it, or he'll go down the street and sell it to somebody else. When something like that goes through the system and doesn't come back hot, you're like: "YES!"

Sometimes people come in and they only need $30 bucks and they offer to pawn an ounce of gold jewelry. You've got to ask yourself, "Do I give them the $30 bucks on an ounce of gold?" Or do I just say, "You just need this one little ring for $30." Sometimes, you just say, "Here's 30 bucks for your ounce of gold." That happens.

Somebody said a long time ago that a pawnbroker with a heart is a broke pawnbroker, and I have often been a broke pawnbroker. I don't know. The morality thing is hard. But most people who've never been in a pawn shop just don't know how difficult it can be to get a little money. You can't go to the bank and borrow 50 bucks. So, we're offering a service to people: short-term collateral loans — 30 days to come get your stuff, with a 10-day grace period, at 20 percent interest. For a lot of people who come in here, that's their only option.

As told to David Koon.

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