Even the clientele has evolved, thanks to the harsh state of the national economy in recent years.
“Over the past three years I’ve gotten a lot of new customers because of the economy,” says pawn broker Tim Oliver, 44. “People who live in $300,000 homes and drive $40,000 cars have been in here.
My clientele has changed quite a bit. It’s not the person who makes $8 an hour any more.”Oliver has been behind the counter at Lebanon Pawn for 15 years. It’s a business his mother, Glenda Reilly, started in 1988 with her ex-husband. Tim, a native of Chattanooga, previously was a professional golfer and also ran a bar in his hometown.
“It is different every day all day. I see a lot of different people, and the items are all different,” Oliver said of the business. “If you don’t have a bank account, you don’t have a checking account or savings account, what are you gonna do? We’re one of your only options.”
It’s an option that Torrie Ritts of Norene obviously believes works for her and her family. She used the Lebanon Pawn three times last year and even did Christmas layaway here.
“If you’re ever in need and having hard times and have something that’s worth anything, you can always get a lien against it,” Ritts said. “If you don’t want to sell it completely, you can come back and get your product that you left. Tim here’s the best.”
So, for the uninitiated, how does a pawn shop work?
“We loan money on items. We do secured commodity loans on things like guitars or jewelry or guns. We’re going to evaluate what your item is worth and give you a percentage of that,” explained Oliver, who always asks the customer upfront, “What do you want for it?”
“Generally, I will offer them 40 to 50 percent of what I appraise the item’s worth to be. The loan is for 30 days. You have the opportunity to come back and redeem your item or extend the loan or just leave the item with me and never come back, and I will sell it.”
Oliver holds pawned goods for 30 days in storage and waits 60 days before he can sell an item. The fee he charges a customer for the loan is regulated by the county. Currently, the loan rate is set at 22 percent. That fee is broken down as 2 percent interest and 20 percent in storage, security and insurance charges.
Oliver says about 80 percent of his clients return to claim their pawned items. “You have all the incentive in the world to come back and get it,” he said.
“At the end of the day, I send a report to Leads Online of everything. It is a law enforcement link to 37 states where they can check for stolen items. One of the big misconceptions about pawn shops is that everybody who brings something in here is bringing in stolen items. It’s actually about one-half percent. I do about 40 transactions a day and just a couple of items a month turn out to be stolen,” Oliver said.
“We take down the driver license ID number (of each customer who pawns an item). They (thieves) don’t do it anymore (frequent pawn shops) because we have a paper trail.”
The shop is packed with a wide variety of items for sale to the public including jewelry, power tools, guitars, amplifiers, cameras, golf clubs and home-video games.
“I sell DVDS for $2, jewelry or a gun for $1,000 and everything in between,” Oliver said. “Some of things I’m interested in buying and selling are flat-panel TVs, laptops, PlayStation 3s, gold and silver coins, jewelry, slightly used power tools and golf clubs.
“Over the last four years a huge part of our business has been buying gold. It has always been one of the mainstays of our business.”
And there are some items he will never accept. “A few people have brought in snakes and lizards. Our policy—I don’t take in anything that eats,” Oliver said.
The pawn store prices on a few items run $399 for a Taurus Ultalite stainless .38 revolver, $299 for a Takamine C series guitar and $319 for a 2010 model 40-inch RCA LCD TV.
“One of the coolest things we’ve had was a 1951 University of Tennessee national championship ring. Only 13 were made,” Oliver said.
As for the rare, hanging in a frame on a wall is the front page of the New York Herald dated April 15, 1865, the day after President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated. The newspaper is not for sale, although Oliver was tempted at an offer of $1,500.
Tim’s mother, Glenda, who operates GG’s Jewelry & Gifts next door, serves as office manager of both businesses. What inspired her to open a pawn shop 22 years ago?
“I had a friend in East Tennessee who owned two pawn shops. They seemed to like it, and I like it. It’s a fun business, something different every day. You meet a lot of nice people,” said Reilly, who during a visit to Las Vegas took a quick look inside the pawn shop of “Pawn Stars” TV fame.
“There were 25 or 30 people waiting in line. You can get your photo taken inside for $25. If you just go to look, you have to walk in and walk out. I peeked in the door. It’s not like it appears on TV. It’s smaller than our place here,” she said.
“At least once every day, somebody will ask me, ‘Hey, have you seen that show, ‘Pawn Stars’? It’s very staged and a very unique place. There are items they get that you won’t find any other place in the world. I did enjoy watching it. ‘Hardcore Pawn’ (another reality TV show) is more entertaining. It’s more true to life than the ‘Pawn Stars’ show,” said Lebanon Pawn star Oliver.
Feature Writer Ken Beck may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.