The Pawn Brokers

Presumably murky characters who fence goods at high interest rates for people in need, pawnshop owners are riding the region's recent wave of misfortune with a measure of respect.



(page 1 of 6)

Ilene Blaz of the Legacy Jewelry store in downtown Birmingham — with its fine carpets, crystal chandeliers, and glass cases brimming with gemstones — says her business “used to be more fun when everybody left here with a gift.” Then, two years ago, as General Motors and Chrysler received emergency bailouts and the economy spiraled downward, Blaz, who runs the store with her son, Neal, did something that was never part of her original business plan. She hired someone to teach her to be a pawnbroker, renovated her store to include a private meeting room for transactions, and added “& Loan” to the name of her company.

So far, the changes are working and adding to the bottom line, says Blaz, who became a licensed pawnbroker after a number of customers requested loans on jewelry they’d bought at her store. These days, she says pawning accounts for 60 percent of her business.

The modification has expanded her client base and her profits. “I consider us a full-service jewelry store because we do everything,” she says. “We buy gold. We buy diamonds. We’ll do whatever we can to get you through this period, which is difficult for everybody.”

Blaz isn’t alone. Pawnshops, once considered less-than-reputable businesses that catered mostly to those down on their luck and in need of quick cash, charged high interest rates, and were often located in less-desirable locations, are now regarded as acceptable places for middle-class and upper-class folks to seek one-time small loans — and business is booming.

“It’s crazy how the image of the pawnshop has changed completely,” Mike Bernacchi, professor of marketing at the University of Detroit Mercy, says. “At one time, it would be appropriate to say, pawnshops were the doormats of the business world.

“I’m not sure they are the kings now,” Bernacchi continues, “but the transformation has been substantial. There is no doubt in my mind that if the economy had not jumped off the face of the earth, pawnshops would not have this new status.”

Part of the reason for the new acceptability is that diverse clientele are discovering pawnshops. Once mainstays of urban cores, these businesses are branching out to the suburbs, and setting up shops in strip malls and shopping centers.

“Pawnshop owners have done a lot to clean up their image,” says Emmett Murphy, spokesperson for the National Pawnbrokers Association (NPA). “And with the success of reality TV shows Pawn Stars and Hardcore Pawn, more people have become interested. Pawnshops are a financial service and are becoming more of a mainstream financial service.”

Related Articles

Weight Loss

A new $148-million national research institute to open in Detroit could generate 10,000 high-tech jobs over the next five years.

Market Leader

Comerica Bank is contributing to Michigan's economic resurgence, but strong customer balance sheets and strong cash positions are negatively impacting loan activity.

Simon Says

With more fuel-efficient vehicles and fewer miles driven, how does Taylor-based Atlas Oil Co. propel a 25-percent growth rate year over year?

Sandy's Ark

ARK prepares businesses and organizations for emergency situations.

Charge Master

Why do some hospitals in the same city or state charge thousands of dollars more for the same procedure?

Most Popular

  1. Exclusive: Downtown Royal Oak Draws Four Restaurants, Including B Spot Burgers
    Four new restaurants are coming to downtown Royal Oak, including a B Spot Burgers by Iron Chef...
  2. Hat Trick
    Three stadiums north of downtown Detroit, including a new $450-million arena for the Detroit Red...
  3. It’s Your Party, Detroit: Area Organizations Celebrate the City’s 313th
    Thursday marks the 313th anniversary of Detroit’s founding by the French explorer Antoine de la...
  4. Midtown and Northwest Detroit Draw New Apartments, Businesses, Expansions
    Business is booming in Midtown and northwest Detroit, where several stores and restaurants are...
  5. ‘Hell’s Kitchen’ Heads to Southfield for First-Ever Michigan Casting Call
    The Great Lakes Culinary Center in Southfield may be best known for its cooking classes,...
  6. Alaskan Brewing Co. Enters Eastern Time Zone Via Michigan Market
    Alaskan Brewing Co. is bringing its products for the first time to the Eastern time zone,...