When William Toro’s car stopped running a few years ago, he was short on cash and didn’t have easy access to credit. His solution? A visit to his local pawn shop, where he pawned his gold necklace for $625.
Toro’s answer to his short-term credit crunch is one that an increasing number of Floridians are finding. Since the recession, the number of pawn shops in the state has almost doubled, and they each conduct hundreds of transactions a month.
Having been laid off after he was diagnosed with a heart condition, Toro had to drive to the doctor every day and had neither the time nor the money for a mechanic. Armed with the loan, which he eventually paid back to retrieve his necklace, Toro bought a new battery and alternator. After installing them himself, his car was back in action.
The pawn shop came to the rescue again a few months ago when Toro’s utility company threatened to cut off his electricity if he didn’t pay up that day. Within 15 minutes, he had gone to the pawn shop, traded his gold bracelet for $240 and paid his family’s electricity bill.
“I don’t see anything wrong with pawn shops,” Toro said. “If you’re in a jam and there’s something that can help you, why not use the resources that are available?”
It’s no secret that the recession hit Florida hard. The foreclosure rate is the seventh highest in the country and unemployment hovers at 10.6 percent—fourth worst in the nation— leading more people to pawnbrokers just to get by. In effect, Florida has become the pawn capital of America, with 1,280 of the 10,000 pawn shops in the country, according to the National Pawnbrokers Association. With an unemployment rate of 13.4 percent, it comes as no surprise that Miami-Dade County’s 198 pawn shops are more than any other county in the state.
“It’s not like you’re going through a credit check, putting up your first born as collateral,” Toro said. “Your collateral is what’s in your hand.”
Economic circumstances may be bringing more business to pawn shops. Before the recession, Florida had only 713 pawn stores, according to the 2007 Economic Census. Another factor could be the popularity of reality TV shows such as Pawn Stars..
“People are walking in who didn’t need to before,” said Ross Boghossian, whose family has owned Bella Pawn at 12 NW First Street since 1956. “We had a guy pull up in a Ferrari, and he needed a loan because he lost tenants from buildings and restaurants. He needed to pay for his mortgage, and since the banks aren’t lending, we’re people’s last option.”
There is something uniquely Miami about the popularity of pawning here, according to local pawnbrokers. There’s a lot of bling crossing over their counters.
During boom times, some people invest or buy real estate or cars. In Miami, much of that wealth bought glitzy jewelry and flashy watches, the stuff pawn shops thrive on, according to Andy Arcila, a pawnbroker since 1996.
“People here, what they call the bling bling, they love it,” said Arcila, the manager of Daddy’s Cash at 3033 NE Second Avenue. “We are showoffs. That definitely helps because there are more things to pawn.”
A purchase that may have been impulsive when times were good is an important asset now when times are tight.