WATERLOO - A Super Bowl ring, a Picasso painting and a 16th-century samurai sword have all found their way to the Gold & Silver Pawn Shop in Las Vegas.
The store is featured weekly on The History Channel's popular "Pawn Stars," now in its second season. But it's friendly service and the availability of short-term loans that keep Cedar Valley brokers in business.
Pawnshops serve a community need, especially in tough times. By accepting items like jewelry and electronics as collateral, the shop helps families make ends meet, said Kim Hibben, general manger of Levi Bros. Jewelry & Loan Co. in Waterloo.
"‘Pawn Stars' is fun to watch, but we don't see a lot of those big ticket items in here," she said. "People appreciate that they can come here and get loans. A lot of our people are on a fixed income, and we help them get through the month."
Pawn shop loans are up 20 to 25 percent across the nation due to unemployment and an increase in the price of gold, according to the National Pawnbrokers Association. Although the agreements come with a higher interest rate than many credit card or bank loans, the transactions are available to anyone with collateral.
"(Borrowing) started increasing when the price of gas went so high, which (was) more than a year ago," said Lynea Davis, of Money & More on LaPorte Road. "People come because it doesn't affect their credit rating, and the amount that they can go into debt is limited by the amount of their collateral, which is totally different from a credit card."
She thinks "Pawn Stars" both helps and hurts the industrys image. While the program introduces viewers to the business, its tattooed, gun-toting characters represent a bygone era.
"We're like how banking used to be," said Davis, who owns Money & More with her husband, Tom. "You used to be able to go to your personal banker and say, ‘My son is getting married,' and get a loan. They don't hear those types of stories anymore. We do."
The same is true at Levi's, which has remained a family business for more than a century. Behind jewelry cases, the store's walls are adorned with photos of employees and customers. Shop regulars are greeted with hugs.
Carmelita Parker has purchased jewelry and borrowed money at the downtown institution.
"When you get a loan at some places you can't sleep at night, worried that they are going to sell your things," said the Waterloo woman, who stopped by Levi's last week with her husband, William. "This place isn't like that. They're good people."