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Desperation fills the pawnshop shelves

Jason Lozada, 41 of Spring Hill pawns his laptop at Gold-N-Pawnd in Spring Hill earlier this month. Todd Rickle, 23, makes out a ticket for the item. 
“My job is in Tampa,” says Lozada, a construction worker. “I have to get my car fixed so I can work.” He borrowed $80.

JANEL SCHROEDER-NORTON | Times

Jason Lozada, 41 of Spring Hill pawns his laptop at Gold-N-Pawnd in Spring Hill earlier this month. Todd Rickle, 23, makes out a ticket for the item. “My job is in Tampa,” says Lozada, a construction worker. “I have to get my car fixed so I can work.” He borrowed $80.

Boats. Electronic games. Family heirlooms. Construction tools. It is a sad display of items that lines the shelves at area pawnshops, emblematic of lower- and middle-class Americans' anxieties for economic stability.

Debbie Rickle, owner of Gold-N-Pawnd on the Pasco side of County Line Road near U.S. 19, says she will have to extend her fence outside to accommodate all of the additional vehicles and boats people hope to sell. Inside, four giant flat-screen televisions are in storage for 30 days before they can be taken out of pawn. Two Bose sound systems worth roughly $1,000 each are for sale.

"We pull a (Nintendo) Wii every week out of pawn," Rickle said.

At Griffin Jewelry and Loan on Mariner Boulevard in Spring Hill, several family heirlooms — an 1820s sheet iron safe, an 1830s cast iron Armada chest and a 1904 mahogany Victrola — line a wall.

"The Armada chest had been in this guy's family for more than 100 years," said store owner David Day. "It killed him, but he had to sell it."

In these desperate times, stirred by a sagging economy and a housing crisis that has hit Hernando and Pasco counties harder than most, pawnbrokers are in a unique position to see the unprecedented difficulties people are going through.

The types of items for sale in pawnshops have strayed from the typical display. Shop owners say they are seeing people part with more and more family valuables, and there has been a higher turnover of costly electronics that would typically take a few years to reach their shelves.

Standing outside Gold-N-Pawnd, John Glover of Spring Hill said he pawned his .22-caliber rifle and his wedding band recently to cover the high price of gas as he looks for a job.

"It's really bad," Glover said. "If we're not out here pawning, then we're not able to get around."

George E. Redman Jr., who owns two Redman Pawn and Gun locations in Brooksville, said a law enforcement officer came into his shop recently and pawned nine firearms.

But not everyone is pawning items of great personal and monetary value. Shop owners say many working people, looking to cut costs and pocket a little extra cash, are pawning whatever their stores will take.

"Anything that they got laying around the house is what we see people bringing in," said Mark Dewaine, owner of Jewels-N-Time Pawn in Brooksville.

For Redman, the business "is getting a little strange."

"I had a guy that wanted to pawn round bales of hay," Redman said. "We've had people call us wanting to sell horses and dogs. You just about name it."

It's frustrating for shop owners when customers try to sell items not worth reselling. They have had to correct misconceptions that pawnshops will take anything. They won't. And now, they're being even more selective about what they will accept.

Many have stopped taking construction tools and equipment, like nail guns, power tools and vehicles. With the housing market down, no one is interested in buying those items.

"If you don't quit pawning things, you'll have a shop full of tools you can't sell," said Joe Breseman, who owns Breseman Pawn Shop on Jefferson Street in Brooksville.

Shop owners, who have loaned money to customers in exchange for merchandise, have also had to be more aggressive about making sure customers return to pick up their items. Owners say some people will promise to return, and then conveniently forget, so desperate they are to hold on to some cash.

Rickle says she has lost some friendships by lending money to people who have been unable to return it. She usually gives customers a courtesy call to remind them of their pickup date.

Ray Hert, who owns AA Pawn, Coin and Jewelry on County Line Road in Hudson and specializes in antiques and Civil War memorabilia, said he hasn't seen a spike in pawned items, but a 15 percent drop in his customer base. Many have moved out of state to find work, he says, and his sales are down roughly 60 percent.

"We've had days when we've only sold $22 worth of stuff," Hert said.

Desperation fills the pawnshop shelves 09/20/08 [Last modified: Monday, September 22, 2008 2:25pm]
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