People turn to pawn shops to make ends meet

PICAYUNE — Shayne Barnes says one can tell how bad or how good the economy is by the number of customers pawning their possessions for cash.

“In my 17 years I have never seen it this bad,” said Barnes, owner of Picayune Pawn & Music. “Bless their hearts, there are some people who have been able to pawn their stuff and get it out in the past, but they’re losing their stuff now.”

Barnes, said that while business has been brisk in those needing to pawn or sell items, buyers have been very sparse this year.

“I’m doing half of what I did this time last year,” said Barnes. “All the pawn shops are.”

As customers streamed in and out of his shop, some paying on pawned items, others trying to either pawn or sell their possessions, Barnes said that he has had to quit taking some items because of the economy.

“It’s got to the point that I really don’t take any more tools,” Barnes said. “Where I would have 50 or 60 nail guns years ago, I can’t take them now because people don’t have jobs.”

Those jobs, he said, would generate a market for people looking to purchase tools for work. Without jobs, people aren’t buying the tools, and without jobs, an influx of tools owned by the unemployed overloads the pawn shops and diminishes the value of the equipment.

“I had someone pawning this morning needing money just to go to work,” he said.

He said nowadays he sees mostly firearms, music equipment, and gold.

“If it wasn’t for gold or the music side,” said Barnes, pointing out the far side of his store where guitars, drums, and other musical equipment were on display for purchase. “I am the only one with the musical instruments.”

Another sign of a tough economy, said Barnes, were the types of items being pawned or sold outright.

“I’m getting things in pawn I never used to get,” he said. “Like the two and a fifth carat diamond ring — they sold it outright.”

That ring, he said, retails for close to $25,000. He’s offering it for a fraction of the retail price.

The pawn process, said Barnes, is fairly uncomplicated and takes but 10 or 15 minutes. He said when someone brings an item in, he examines it and if it is something he can give them a loan on, he then asks the person how much would they like to get for it. If they agree on a price, the item is carefully catalogued and the person given a receipt. They then have 30 days to pay off the loan.

When the 30 days is up, if the customer does not have the money to pay off the loan, they have the option of making an interest payment, thus giving them another 30 days. At some point, though, the item needs to be redeemed or let go.

Even so, lately Barnes said he is working with some of his customers to try and help them, ones that have been regular patrons for while.

“The loan is for 30 days,” said Barnes, “But I will hold some stuff for two or three months if I know them and if they call.”

Noting that gold is hottest pawn item right now, Barnes said he has had a number of other items he has taken in on pawn that are out of the norm, including Civil War swords, an antique spur, and coins.

He said there have been some unusual items people have attempted to pawn.

One, he said, was a gentleman with a two-ton pick up truck loaded with apples who wanted to sell Barnes the fruit; another was a woman who said she had purchased steaks with food stamps and was trying to pawn them.

Perhaps the most bizarre was the person who came in with a plastic baggie of gold teeth they wanted to pawn.

Barnes said his business was doing pretty good even in the economically tough atmosphere.

Barnes said the reason for that was the gold being sold and pawned, as well as the musical instruments he has for sale. He said that he also decided to offer other items for sale that are not normally found in a pawn shop.

“I have books over there,” said Barnes, pointing to a bookcase of hard and soft cover books. “Who would’ve thought so many people read.” He does not, however, take books on pawn.

He also sells DVDs, small hand tools, and a number of power tools including chainsaws, drills and trim saws.

“I also have a coat rack with free coats for the needy,” said Barnes. “Have a coat and don’t need it, leave it; need a coat, take a coat.”

As for the holiday season, Barnes said that while he has not seen a spike in those buying, he still had hopes.

“Usually two weeks before Christmas and then on up to Christmas, the men come in and buy their wives jewelry,” said Barnes. “I sure hope it happens again this year.”

Patricia Older/Picayune Item