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Pawn shops offer new and pre-owned items popular during pandemic

Television shows like “Pawn Stars” have helped change people’s views of pawn shops from seedy places with shady characters to modern stores with nicely displayed merchandise and a friendly staff.

Pawn shops buy and sell everything from silver and gold coins/bullions and new or pre-owned jewelry to electronics (computers, iPads, laptops, gaming systems and televisions), sneakers, handbags, cameras, musical instruments, used tools and exercise equipment — all in good or gently used condition.

People over 18 can also sell or pawn items and receive a loan “based on the value of the collateral,” according to nationalpawnbrokers.org.

“I’ve met people who don’t have a dime in their pocket and I’ve met millionaires,” said Harry Chiappone, co-owner of C & S Pawn at 205 Main St. in Norwich. “There’s no demographic.”

He said some celebrities come from the casinos after being there for one week and gambling all their money away. “They don’t want to go home. They could come to us and borrow money on their watch, or their jewelry, or whatever.”

Chiappone also said millionaires know how to make money. For example, they could buy a $10,000 Rolex watch for half price at his shop.

Business has definitely slowed and changed since the pandemic began in March 2020, he said. “A lot of people are still a little scared to be out and about so you’re not getting the foot traffic and the flow of people like you normally do.”

Collectible sneakers are the new product that sells very well with “younger kids,” Chiappone said. “When I was a kid, we used to use trading cards and whatnot. Now kids collect sneakers. So you get new Air Jordans and different types of sneakers that are very popular, very trendy and very expensive.”

Chiappone explained that brands like Adidas and Nike only make a limited amount of certain sneakers.

“Sometimes you can get in on an auction,” and may pay $180 for sneakers that are worth $500. “They’ll come in and sell them or buy a pair from us.”

“We saw a lot of tool sales during COVID online and in store, because people are doing more home projects,” said Brett Mastroianni, owner of East Coast Jewelry & Loan in the Holly Green Plaza at 391 Norwich-Westerly Road (Rte. 2) in North Stonington. “Instead of going out and buying new, they were looking for pre-owned items.”

He said their landscaping equipment went “pretty quickly” last summer, “because people that used to pay a service to do it were now starting to do it themselves,” because they had been laid off from their jobs.

Sales on laptops and iPads are way up since the pandemic began and customers have also been starting new hobbies and buying more musical instruments, snowboards and fishing poles, Mastroianni said.

He described his shop as a “mini-department store with a lot of pre-owned goods” — everything from collectible toys and handbags to Pandora charm bracelets and firearms.

New and secondhand jewelry is the biggest section in his store. “I have a laser welder. We have a high tech way to do jewelry repair. So you don’t have to take certain diamonds out of their mountings or other stones and do a pinpoint.”

He said some people wouldn’t buy jewelry from a pawn shop, but that’s because “they don’t understand how the diamond wholesale market works. A lot of the diamonds you’re buying at any of the major stores have been recycled. A good percentage of the diamonds out on the marketplace were owned by somebody else or were in a different ring at some point because diamonds don’t have to come directly from the mine,”

Mastroianni said. “Even the jewelers that buy scrap or pre-owned stuff, most of them take the diamonds out, either sell them again or sell them to a wholesaler who sells them to another jewelry store.”

Jewelry is also a good aspect of Yankee Peddler & Pawn at 141 State St. in New London and 535 Long Hill Road in Groton, co-owner Chad LaPlante said.

Since the pandemic began last March, he said “business has dropped a little bit.” However, once people began receiving government stimulus money and unemployment compensation, LaPlante said they’re being less frugal and buying “that pair of Nikes for $250” in their stores that would sell for $500 on eBay.

Other popular items include gently used exercise equipment, bicycles, tools and electronics, including laptops, computers and gaming systems.

People from all walks of life and income brackets visit their stores, he said. “That’s what makes it interesting. I’ve seen kids grow up. They’ve become young adults. It can be a family experience, because there’s something for everyone in the store.”

All three pawn shop owners said during telephone interviews that pawning is down since the pandemic began. Currently, jewelry is not the top seller, because it isn’t a necessity.

The owners are also sanitizing their stores and require people to wear masks to enter. Additionally, they continue to educate people about pawn shops’ long history.

“As humankind’s oldest financial institution, pawn loans can be traced back at least 3,000 years to ancient China as well as early Greek and Roman civilizations. During the 14th century, King Edward III of England is said to have frequented pawn stores in Europe. Queen Isabella is reported to have pawned her royal jewels to finance Christopher Columbus’ voyage to the New World,” according to pawnshopstoday.com.

Today, pawn shop owners must be bonded and have a precious metals dealer’s license, a secondhand dealer’s license and a pawnbroker’s license, Mastroianni said. Also, when an individual is pawning or selling an item, he said the dealer must take his or her license and picture and “report to the state what comes in on a weekly basis,” which then goes into a database.

Mastroianni said pawn shops are heavily regulated.

“You do try to discourage (people) from receiving anything that wasn’t theirs. So they have to sign paperwork, saying that the merchandise was theirs to sell. That might have been one of the reasons behind the state law.”

He thinks the law works well as a deterrent. “If you knew you stole something or it wasn’t yours, are you going to hand someone your license and let them take a picture of you and sign a paper of exactly what you just sold?”

Pawn shop owners believe their businesses will survive these challenging times.

“Once everything kind of settles down, America opens up again and then people get back to work, I think we’ll sustain,” LaPlante of Yankee Peddler & Pawn said.

Since they never experienced anything like a pandemic before and had no idea what to expect, Chiappone of C & S Pawn said, “Even though the times are different and a little bit slower, things are picking up and I don’t see a future where we’re not here, so we should be fine.”

“It’s about changing with the times,” said Mastroianni of East Coast Jewelry & Loan. “We started picking up again a few months ago, and then we had the (COVID) spike (and) traffic died down. And now we’re getting through it with the amount of vaccines going out and people are definitely getting more active.”

Pawn Shops

C & S Pawn

205 Main St., Norwich

(860) 889-7296

 

East Coast Jewelry & Loan

Holly Green Plaza

391 Norwich-Westerly Road, North Stonington

(860) 415-8740

 

Yankee Peddler & Pawn

141 State St., New London

535 Long Hill Rd., Groton

7 Pitkin St., East Hartford

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