Quentin Caruana, owner of a company that sells preowned designer goods, is one of the new breed of customers. Herecently drove four hours from Laguna Beach, Calif., to a Las Vegas pawn shop to buy his wife a $10,000 piece of diamond jewelry for Christmas — a purchase he said would have cost him $30,000 at regular jewelry store. That wasn’t his first time; he’s bought designer handbags, jewelry and other accessories at pawn shops before, with the knowledge of his wife.
“I don’t see any difference about buying there versus at a department store that’s maybe (having a) sale,” Caruana said. “Most of the diamonds and jewelry, they get shined up like brand-new. A lot of times they also get things new that come in the original packaging.”
Caruana knows this firsthand: He’s a 37-year old former mortgage broker and banker who described himself as a “wealthy guy” until he was hurt by the bursting of the housing bubble, during which he turned in his prized Rolex and other possessions for cash at pawn shops. “By going and visiting these locations, I realized that I’m not the only one selling items, new items,” he added.
While Caruana still visits department stores and boutiques such as Tiffany, Hermes or Louis Vuitton, he said he doesn’t shop as often at those places anymore after beginning to buy at pawn shops.
“Pawn used to be a four-letter word, but now it’s more sexy,” said Michael Mack, a fourth-generation pawn-shop owner who opened the upscale Max Pawn shop about five minutes off the Las Vegas Strip three years ago. “We are seeing high-end customers who used to go to Cartier and Tiffany. In today’s economy, people want deals.”
In California, Jordan Tabach-Bank, the owner of the Beverly Loan Co. in Beverly Hills, said he expects this holiday season to be one of his best, since his sales so far are higher than ever.
“We see hedge-fund managers, politicians, doctors, celebrity and professional clientele,” Tabach-Bank said. “These white-collar customers want a deal. They are buying for wives, siblings, children and grandparents. It’s not embarrassing to say, ‘I got this secondhand.’ It’s a source of pride to say you got a great deal. We’ll gift-wrap and make it look as beautiful as it looks on Rodeo Drive.”
Traditionally, though, return and refund policies are not as generous as at the mall. But surprisingly, some are. Cash America, for its part, says it backs everything with a receipt for 30 days, adding that if for any reason a product needs to be returned, the company will give a full refund, replace it with an item of comparable value or offer store credit. (It’s always wise to ask.)
But as the country’s fortunes improve, pawn shops could lose their luster — literally. As the economy and job market pick up, fewer people may see the need to sell or hock their luxury items, leaving fewer deals for bargain hunters.
Miami Herald reporter Ina Paiva Cordle contributed to this report.