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Pawn (shop) Star

Times are tough, and nothing proves it more than the odd assortment of valuables lining Andalusia’s Covington Trade and Pawn showroom.

“Not a month ago, we had someone come in who wanted to pawn some Christmas ornaments,” said store manager P.J. Mankevick. “Strange, I know.”

Pawning was the leading form of consumer credit in the United States until the 1950s, according to the Web site of Pawn Stars, the program that airs regularly on the History Channell.

And it is gaining popularity again. Witness the telescope, two Cedar rocking chairs, a high-powered rifle and sparkling rows of gold and diamonds waiting for new owners.

The concept behind the process is simple – bring in an item of value and the store gives a cash loan based on a percentage of its estimated value. One has 30 days to pay back the money or the item is forfeited.

Daniel Gilley, the store’s co-owner, said peak business times are tax season, Christmas and hunting season when people are looking both to get money and to spend it.

“Two years ago when I started, we only lost about 25 percent of our pawns,” Gilley said. “Now, it’s up to 75 percent.”

Which means three-out-of-four who bring in an item for a short-term loan don’t return to pick it up. Items generally include guns, electronics, tools, jewelry, ATVs and even automobiles.

To determine an item’s value, Gilley said he uses the popular online auction site eBay.

“It’s a good indicator of what people are willing to pay for an item,” he said. “If someone brings in whatever and says it’s worth this much, but it’s being sold all day long on EBay for this much, I know what I can loan on it and what I can’t, because I can see what it can being sold for.”

And that’s how the store makes its profit.

When items are unclaimed at the end of the 30-day period, they are placed up for sale, generally for significantly less than one would pay at a retail establishment, he said.

The store, which is located on Alabama Highway 55, typically sees between 20 to 30 customers a day.

Of those, “half come to pawn and the other half come to shop,” Gilley said.

“Most of the time the people who come in to pawn have the saddest stories – my baby’s sick and needs medicine; Momma died or Daddy died.

“I think the saddest thing I’ve ever seen is this little old lady came in and tried to pawn a new walker because she said she needed money to buy medicine,” he said

“It makes your heart break,” he said. “You want to just give them money, but you can’t. This is a business.”