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Published: Friday, 7/15/2011

Pawnbrokers enjoying influx of new business

PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER
Stanton Myerson, owner of a pawn shop in Upper Darby, Pa., has seen an uptick in business. 'We're still the poor man's bank,' he says. Stanton Myerson, owner of a pawn shop in Upper Darby, Pa., has seen an uptick in business. 'We're still the poor man's bank,' he says.
PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER Enlarge

PHILADELPHIA -- Outfitted in two-tone spectator shoes, a bow tie, pleated pants, and a white dress shirt as perfectly pressed as his mustache was groomed, Stanton Myerson, a jeweler's loupe dangling from a chain around his neck, seemed conspicuously out of place as proprietor of a business that sells, among many things, Whoop Ass pepper spray.

That impression was reinforced when the 61-year-old grandfather started to talk and a high-pitched voice emerged from his equally unintimidating 5-foot-7-inch, 150-pound frame.

Don't be fooled -- Mr. Myerson is no pushover, no matter how sad the stories customers tell when they come through the door of his shop on 69th Street in Upper Darby, Pa.

In the pawn business, being an emotional wall when confronted with teary tales of woe -- or belligerent protests over the price being offered for treasures -- is critical to success, Mr. Myerson maintains.

"If you get sucked in, then you're broke," he said.

He's certainly not that. In the 97th year of Lou's Jewelry & Pawn -- started by Mr. Myerson's father, Louis, in Philadelphia and now believed to be the oldest family-owned pawn business in America -- annual revenues exceed $2 million.

Mr. Myerson, president of the Pennsylvania Pawnbrokers Association and one of 65 licensed pawnbrokers in the state, has seen an uptick in business he expects will be sustained for at least the next five years.

Along with the financial squeeze many are still feeling, Mr. Myerson attributes the influx of new pawnshop visitors to the generally positive exposure the industry -- regulated by state banking departments -- has been enjoying from such cable shows as History's Pawn Stars and truTV's Hardcore Pawn.

Mr. Myerson has pulled out of locations he had in Delaware, reducing his onetime chain of five pawnshops to just the one. There one day last week, business was steady at the cashier's window, mostly from men and women without bank accounts who were cashing checks and using another service the eight employees at Lou's provide to attract customers: making utility-bill payments.

"We're still the poor man's bank," Mr. Myerson said of the role of the pawnshop, which industrywide has far less of "the sleaze factor" once associated with it, he contended.

The clientele now is "younger, more computer-savvy," and well-educated on the value of merchandise, Mr. Myerson said. "With the Internet, they can find out anything about anything at any time."

That has put pressure on profit margins, Mr. Myerson admitted.

The rule of thumb at Lou's: Any loan is generally 30 percent to 40 percent of the market value of the item put up for it. To give original owners a chance to recoup it, such property is held a minimum of four months -- more often, eight to nine months, Mr. Myerson said -- before it is offered for sale to the general public.



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