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What’s the deal? Business is booming at local pawn shops.

Some quick cash for DVDs or power tools can turn into a full gas tank

POSTED: July 10, 2008 5:00 a.m.
Tom Reed/The Times

Shelia McFalls looks over some of the items for sale in her store, Lanier Jewelry and Loan. Power tools have become a popular item to pawn as the construction industry continues to suffer.

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Ray Newman plopped the stereo with a five compact-disc changer on the counter at Lanier Jewelry and Loan on Dawsonville Highway.

Before long, he had cranked up the volume and had the good-natured clerk who was helping him moving in rhythm.

Yep, the stereo worked fine.

Good thing, too - not that Newman had any doubt. The Gainesville construction worker needed an advance on some cash until he could get the needed money to pull the stereo out of pawn.

"I need extra gas money," he said.

Area pawnbrokers said they are seeing a rise in business as the economy sinks. High gas prices particularly have roughed up people's bank accounts, chipping away at incomes that also need to be used for food, clothing and power bills.

"Gas money, gas money, gas money is what we hear," said Shelia McFalls of Lanier Jewelry and Loan.

Don Scott, owner of Pawn International at 106 Atlanta Highway in Gainesville, said, "Times are tough for everybody right now, and the loan business has increased tremendously."

And he said he sees a wide range of customers.

"Blue collar, white collar, people just trying to make ends meet. Things are so high. When gas goes up, everything goes up. It's just a trickle effect."

More people are defaulting on loans because "they can't afford to get (items) back," Scott said.

Newman, 40, said even though he has a 30-day note, he plans to pay back his loan within a couple of weeks.

Still, though, the construction worker said the falling economy has been tough.

"There are good days and bad days (for work)," Newman said. "On rainy days, I don't get to work."

Scott said people are pawning a lot of gold and jewelry, including Rolex watches. Construction workers are bringing in "high-end" tools.

"The housing market the way it is now, there's not a lot of construction out there," he said.

Scott, who has been in the pawn business for about 20 years, hears plenty of sad stories, such as people just trying to buy diapers for their children.

"You hear it all," he said. "... You've got to learn to not let that get to you."

A lot of pawn stores are stacked with inventory, Scott said.

"We're not in love with (inventory)," he said. "You turn a loaning problem into a selling problem. If you price something right, it's going to sell."

McFalls said she too has noticed an array of people bringing items to the store.

"Middle-income people are finding (the economy) hard to deal with," she said. "It's like, for whatever reason, ‘Oh, I've cleaned out my garage, I've cleaned out my attic, I've had this stuff lying around.' They're coming in here and getting rid of it."

Basically, "memorabilia you probably want to hang onto, we're finding that they'll let go of it," McFalls said.

But all customers, whether they're pawning an item or buying an expensive ring, "are going to be treated the same," she said.

Phil Forrester, owner of Gainesville Jewelry at 1020 Jesse Jewell Parkway, said he is seeing a repeat of an event in 1979, when gold went to $860 per ounce.

"At that time, there was real, real high inflation and interest rates approached close to 20 percent," he said. "At that time, we had people lined up outside our store selling us class rings, wedding bands and stuff like that."

After that spike, gold prices went on to languish in the $260 to $300 per ounce range.

"Now, what's happened with the economy, with oil today up to $143 per barrel and there is some skittishness in the economy, gold ... is trading today at $941 an ounce," Forrester said Tuesday.

Which means, like nearly 30 years ago, there are those cashing in on gold bought at much cheaper prices.

"You also have people supplementing their income in these tight times, with gasoline taking as much as 20 percent of their salary," he said.

People might be surprised by what they have lying around in their houses.

"Ninety-five out of a 100 people have put up ... a treasure trove of scrap gold and silver," he said.



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