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New St. Pete pawnshop hums when times are glum

ST. PETERSBURG

Michael Dunville walked into Stan's Pawn last week with a 27-inch television, a combination VCR-DVD player and a 6-foot work ladder. He walked out with $17. Dunville, 41, said he needed quick cash because he was moving and his hours as a house painter were few. "I'm just getting gas money to make it to work tomorrow," he said. "I'm glad he's here. Places like this help you out."

It was his first time at Stan's Pawn, at 340 Fifth Ave. N, which opened in June and is doing a brisk business.

Dunville's transaction was small for the shop's owner, Stanley Gurvitz, and not very profitable. It took about 20 minutes to complete, and the customized paperwork Gurvitz is required to use by law costs about 90 cents.

Even so, people like Dunville are fueling growth in pawnshops across the county and state during a tough economy. And self-starters like Gurvitz, a career changer with experience in the used-goods business, see the moneymaking opportunity.

So does local developer Blake Whitney Thompson, who is partnering with Gurvitz and said he hopes to expand Stan's Pawn.

Gurvitz, 51, described himself as a jack of all trades. He used to run catering businesses in Indiana, and also bought and remodeled homes there. He came to St. Petersburg seven years ago and worked as a handyman on some of Thompson's properties.

Gurvitz likes to say that pawnshops have been around "since the Ming Dynasty." He said he wants to develop a reputation as an honest pawnbroker. A lot of people see him as a "bottom feeder," he acknowledged. But he says pawnshops serve a valuable purpose for the low and middle classes.

"It's not usury," he said of the pawn business. "It's numbers."

By state law, pawnshops cannot charge more than 25 percent interest a month. Gurvitz said he could not immediately provide his interest rate schedule because he uses an automated computer system called CompuPawn. That system is used by many pawnshops across the nation, including several chains.

But Gurvitz acknowledges he stands to make the most money from people who pawn their valuables to borrow cash on an interest plan that begins at 2 percent and compounds quickly.

In Florida, pawnshops are growing in number. According to the state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, which licenses them, there are 1,368 in Florida this year, up from 1,181 in 2007. In Pinellas there are 70, including 17 in St. Petersburg, 15 in Clearwater, 15 in Pinellas Park and 10 in Largo.

Pawn and secondhand shops are closely watched by the police because stolen items frequently wind up there.

In St. Petersburg, 47 pawnshops and secondhand dealers have handled 100,000 transactions this year, said St. Petersburg police investigator Mitzi Perry, who is assigned to the property recovery unit. That's up from 27 shops and 121,320 transactions in all of 2005, Perry said.

The pawnshops and secondhand dealers are required to report each transaction to the police, who add them to a countywide database. Items with a serial number or owner's engraving are added to a national database.

Many of these businesses also buy and sell firearms. Gurvitz says he is awaiting certification from the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to do so.

It can be a dangerous line of work. Stan's, which is quickly filling up with electronics, jewelry and bicycles, is monitored by video cameras that also cover the parking lot.

Gurvitz said he will call police if he suspects an item is stolen. He can usually tell if someone fished something out of the garbage, though, and he's all right with paying a few dollars for that.

"If it's valuable, if it's something I can sell, I will try to make an offer."

Luis Perez can be reached at (727) 892-2271 or lperez@sptimes.com.

New St. Pete pawnshop hums when times are glum 07/17/10 [Last modified: Saturday, July 17, 2010 1:36pm]

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