When customers enter Rick Harrison s Las Vegas pawn shop, they don t encounter the seamy, dingy confines that have long stereotyped such establishments. Instead of the switchblade knives, cheap revolvers, and banged-up power tools that smack of desperation, the walls and showcases throughout the Gold and Silver Pawn Shop hold an assortment of items that are more like museum pieces than merchandise in a storefront on Las Vegas Boulevard.
In one case sits poker mogul Benny Binion s white cowboy hat, and in another, former New England Patriot Brock Williams diamond-encrusted 2001 Super Bowl ring. Hanging on the walls are equally illustrious items that include a framed Renoir and Nat King Cole s gold record for The Christmas Song.
Not your typical pawn shop
[caption id="attachment_6676" align="alignright" width="280" caption="Corey, Rick, and Richard Harrison (above, left to right) operate the Gold and Silver Pawn Shop just blocks from the Las Vegas Strip. The store is the only family-run pawn shop in town and the subject of the History Channel reality series Pawn Stars. (Photo courtesy of the History Channel)"][/caption]
As visitors wander around the large showroom taking in this eclectic mix of curiosities and collectibles, one thing is clear this isn t your average pawn shop. Located a few blocks from the Las Vegas Strip in a town where the cash flow is constant, massive, and always necessary, Harrison s father, Richard, picked the perfect place to open the business in 1988.
For years, Vegas has been a Mecca for really wealthy people and vacationers who spend way too much money and end up needing cash, says Harrison, who runs the shop with his father and 24-year-old son, Corey. Of course, people can come in and sell me something outright, but most of our business occurs on the pawn side of things.
How a pawn works is Harrison makes an offer against a piece of merchandise and, if the person accepts it, he lends them the cash and holds their property as collateral. They have 120 days to pay the principal plus 10% interest on the loan, and retrieve their item. If they don t, the merchandise is Harrison s to sell.
The whole process may seem a matter of pure dollars and cents, but in reality, success here requires a Renaissance man who has a working knowledge of history, art, science, economics, and basic psychology. Before he can determine what to loan or pay for a particular item, Harrison needs to know what it is and what it s worth.
Since my father started the business 21 years ago, we ve had just about one of everything in here, he remarks. That said, you have to know a lot in this business, and you never stop learning.
In the space of a few hours, Harrison could have customers trying to sell him a piece of the Berlin Wall, an 18th-century flintlock pistol, Confederate money, even an ejection seat from a Vietnam-era fighter jet. The self-professed bookworm rattles off facts about each one, commenting on its history, condition, and value, occasionally calling on experts to fill in the gaps and determine a price.
Next, Harrison works the sale like a true professional. So, what do you want for it, he asks a man selling an 18th-century firearm for money to buy an engagement ring. I m thinking three grand, answers the customer.
Harrison pauses contemplatively and responds, Keep on thinking. That s what it s worth in a retail store. You said you wanted a ring, right? I ll go two grand cash or 2,500 bucks trade [meaning store credit].
The customer fidgets as he ponders the counter offer, and with a handshake accepts the trade deal. This smooth, showman-like negotiation, combined with the unique merchandise that makes the shop distinctive, earned the father-son-grandson trio their own television reality show.
History s highest-rated show
Since its debut on July 26, 2009,Pawn Stars
has become the History Channel s highest rated program, captivating viewers with a blend of storyline and family friction that one might describe asAntiques Roadshow
In fact, it s the only family-run pawn shop in Las Vegas something that Harrison confesses can be a challenge in itself. The best thing about my job is that I work with my family, and the worst thing about my job is that I work with my family, he says with a hearty laugh.
We sometimes butt heads me with my father, and my son with me but in the end we all bring something to the table that has contributed to our reputation as fair businessmen running an upright business.
And it s the business that Harrison truly loves. My job is great because it s not an assembly line, he says. In the more than two decades that I ve been doing this, I ve met people representing the entire social spectrum: politicians, rock stars, actors and actresses, and normal working people. I have one regular customer who s a billionaire.
Indeed, Harrison never knows who or what will come through the door next, but in this business one thing is certain everything has a story and a price.