Pawnshops Rise Above Reputation

by Luke Jones  on Monday, Jan. 16, 2012 12:00 am  

When picturing a pawnshop, it's hard not to imagine a stern-faced pawnbroker, his suspicious eyes flickering over a collection of cameras, jewelry and rifles, all locked behind fire safes and barred windows.

But that imagery constitutes a stereotype, and a diminishing one, according to several Arkansas pawnbrokers.

Tim Collier's shop, Pacer Ltd., barely resembles anyone's image of a pawnshop. Collier, a man with a white beard and rosy cheeks, sits behind a cozy desk in his Little Rock office on South University Avenue. His office is his shop, where there's nary a camera, rifle or jewel in sight. Visitors are instead treated to photos of Collier's family and Arkansas Razorbacks keepsakes.

Collier didn't come from a pawnbroker family. He started in retail jewelry, moving to the pawn business when he realized very few pawnbrokers had jewelry specialization.

"That's what makes our business so unique," he said. "More than half of traditional pawnbrokers don't have the knowledge to look at a Rolex, or a diamond of any size, and determine its authenticity or any enhancements made or adjustments that would affect the value."

Diamonds and other precious stones can be laser treated or drilled, Collier said, and it takes a trained eye to notice these changes.

"That's why I got into the pawn business, to offer an alternative to traditional pawnshops," he said.

Now, he's the head of the Arkansas Pawnbrokers Association. Pawnbrokers perform normal retail buying and selling, but their main business is the regulated activity of pawning, or lending cash based on the value of an item. The borrower has a certain amount of time to redeem the item by paying back its value plus fees, and most items are redeemed - about 80 percent, according to the National Pawnbrokers Association. But pawned items that are not redeemed by the original owner can then be sold.

Collier's customers don't bring him their TVs or guns, because Collier doesn't buy them. He also doesn't buy musical instruments, cameras or video games - only gold and jewelry.

And even though Pacer doesn't have curbside appeal - nobody is going to walk into University Tower looking for a pawnshop - Collier still gets calls every day from people looking for iPods, extension ladders, anything.

"They're just going down the list of pawnshops," he said. "They don't read the fact that we don't do anything but jewelry. But that's generally how they find us."

Collier stores his customers' pawned items at a different location. When a pawn is not redeemed, he sells it to wholesalers rather than walk-in buyers.



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