For Delmarva shoppers, pawn shops are hot spots

SEAFORD, Del. — As budgets tighten and the holiday season is here, Delmarva shoppers are turning to pawn shops as an alternative to big box stores and shopping malls.

One of the main draws of pawn shops is negotiable prices, as opposed to customers heading to a chain store likely having to pay sticker price. Pawn shops also offer a place to sell past presents gift-givers didn’t use for cash.

“Holidays are always big and for us it’s one of those things where we see a pickup in business going both directions,” said Steve Kottman, general manager at Crazy Louie’s Pawn Shop in Salisbury. “Certainly with the economy, people need more money.”

Kottman said if holiday shoppers see a laptop advertised for $250 at a chain store and know they won’t be able to afford it, they might simply decide against buying it.

At pawn shops, however, customers know prices can change.

“I think that’s part of the appeal,” Kottman said.

Pawn shops not only operate by selling second-hand merchandise, but also offer temporary loans in exchange for collateral and will buy merchandise they can resell for a profit.

Delmarva pawn shops including Sussex County Pawn in Seaford, Dorchester County Pawn in Cambridge and Pawn Star in Millsboro offer an array of gift options, ranging from electronics to jewelry to toys. As new technology has become a top-ranking gift category for all ages, pawn shops have kept up by offering laptops, tablets, iPods and gaming systems.

And this year, pawn shop owners say they are seeing more holiday shoppers and seeing them earlier — a trend that coincides with national sales at chain stores.

“We are seeing an increase this year,” said Scott Paulsen, owner of Sussex County Pawn. “Shopping actually started earlier. Usually the last week people come in in a panic.”

To ensure the products they buy are above board, Kottman said, pawn shop managers are required to enter the merchandise they buy into a police database every evening to ensure items don’t match up against any police reports about stolen goods.

In addition to negotiable prices and trades, Sussex County Pawn also offers layaway plans. Paulsen said because of state laws he can’t complete a trade in one day, but can do one as two transactions, 18 days apart. He also said he sometimes offers more value for a trade than for a cash transaction.

While the items at a pawn shop may not be brand new, Paulsen and Kottman said it’s difficult to tell the difference.

“About 95 percent of our stuff is used compared to the big box stores, but we test it when it comes in and before it goes back out,” Paulsen said. “On jewelry, gold is gold and diamonds are diamonds, and our prices are generally better than any of the box stores or jewelry stores.”

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