Lake Norman & Mooresville

Pawnshops thrive in weak economy

I wasn't at Ken Clanton's Peddlers Pawn Emporium for long before he pulled out a Civil War bayonet and issued a challenge to me.

"Now, man up and pull that out of its sheath," he said.

As I coaxed the heavy iron relic out from its cover, the distinct ring of metal scraping across metal resonated in everyone within earshot.

"Did you realize you were sharpening it when you pulled it out?" said Clanton.

That's the kind of information you'll learn when you visit area pawnshops, such as Peddlers Pawn Emporium on Union Street South in Concord.

They're a colorful potpourri of unique items, many with stories attached along with their price tags.

Clanton, who has owned pawnshops in the area for years, including the one on Union, likes to deal with the unusual.

"If you look around here, you're going to find a lot of really weird things, because I'm sort of a really weird person," he said. "How many other places can you look around and find an old accordion, or a Hershey paperweight, or mini Coke bottles?"

As we talked, two women giddy with laughter each took an end of a large, old-fashioned popcorn popper and shuffled it out the door. They popped it in their trunk and zoomed away, still grinning.

Across town, Ralph McGee, owner of City Pawn Shop on Church Street, has seen some strange items, too.

How do you politely tell a man you're not interested in taking in his wooden leg, no matter how many times he thumps on it and proclaims its solidity?

It's not how important it is to you, said McGee, who started his business more than 30 years ago. It's salability.

"Almost anything you can think, at some time or another we've had it," he said. "I've had people bring in big sluice boxes that you use to mine gold. I tell them, 'I have nowhere to put that thing.' "

Three quarters of the people who bring in items, said McGee, eventually come back for them. They're just looking for a short-term loan, a need which he's happy to oblige.

Between interest and pawnbroker fees that include appraisal and storage, McGee charges 22 percent for a loan.

Mike and Michelle Vandeventor of Concord came in to pick up their 9 mm gun, which they had dropped off as collateral 30 days earlier.

"We do it on a regular basis," said Michelle, to help pay the cost of their medical bills. "We're both diabetics."

Pawnshops often thrive during trying financial times.

"When the economy was good, our business was good, and when the economy went bad, our business got better," said McGee, who saw a 30 percent increase in activity at City Pawn this year.

December and January are two of his biggest months. "In December it's people borrowing money for Christmas, and it's people selling things for Christmas, and it's people buying things for Christmas," he said. "In January we have a lot of people that are borrowing money to pay bills that they run up in December."

Clanton sees it a little differently.

"Pawn shops are doing well in this economy, but from what I'm seeing, the amount of pickups (customers redeeming their pawned items) are not as high as they were," he said.

He said many customers have the best intentions, but then, he suspects, a bill comes up and they have to leave their item behind. "The economy is hard on people right now," he said.

In the meantime, he'll keep buying if the items interest him enough and the story sounds good.

"The pawn shop is the best place in the world to find characters," said Clanton.