When you think pawnshop, you think images of skid row areas and thieves trading stolen jewelry for cash. Not any more. More “respectable” people are having cash problems these days just as the really poor was always looking for anything they could trade for hard cash. In 2011, pawn and loan chains are gaining new respect. They’re filling a spot that most banks don’t provide. They offer modest loans.
Now we have big companies that specialize in small loans and they are thriving. “EZ Corp.” and “Cash America International” are two of the biggest pawnshop chains that have attained profitability by offering loans of mostly $50 to $200 for working people. One factor in the success of these types of businesses is their shift to a more upbeat image. Their advertising suggests that trading jewelry in pawnshops is comparable to selling your stuff on E-Bay. In the past, there was a stigma attached to people who had to sell their precious possessions.
How people see pawnshops in media has also changed. In 1964, Rod Steiger played a troubled shopkeeper in then film “The Pawnbroker.” In 2011 “Pawn Stars,” a popular show on cable TV’s History Channel, depicts three generations of pawnbrokers in Las Vegas, helping clients survive the recession. Pawnshops are state-regulated and charge 10% to 20% interest monthly for two or three months in most states. If the loan isn’t repaid, it can sell the item.
EZ Corp. and Cash America target middle-class and working-class consumers that earn $30,000 to $80,000 a year. Many clients are hourly wage earners who face a shortfall triggered by a costly medical bill or anything requiring several hundred dollars in cash. Pawnshop respectability surged when the economy faltered. Pawnshops serve the middleclass who now are cut off from credit, as well as the millions of Americans who don’t bank and have no checking or savings accounts.
Now pawnshops are increasing in popularity because it is a no-hassle way to get quick cash especially for the working-class clients that banks regard as risky clients. There are restaurant owners that are loosing business because no one can afford to go out to dinner like they used to. These restaurants are cashing in their personal belongings for quick cash to keep payroll and other expenses going until people start going out often again.