Shopping for Mom at the Pawn Shop
Mother's DayLocal

Shopping for Mom at the Pawn Shop

I check out alternatives to malls and online shopping for the women in my life.

Chana Shapiro is an educator, writer, editor and illustrator whose work has appeared in journals, newspapers and magazines. She is a regular contributor to the AJT.

Dynasty façade
Dynasty façade

Several years ago, I went to Dynasty Jewelry and Pawn on Jimmy Carter Boulevard in Norcross, where I bought a pair of gold earrings for a bat mitzvah girl. The gold hoops were perfect, and the price was much more reasonable than at many of the jewelry stores I had visited.

MCM cross-body wallet at Metro Pawn

With Mother’s Day approaching, I returned to the Dynasty shop. This Atlanta pawnshop is well known as the place to go for high-end items, and due to effective advertising through Google, TV and social media, it has a broad client base. “Eighty-five percent of our sales are from jewelry and designer bags and shoes, even though they’re not 85 percent of our inventory,” said co-owner Ben Levinson.

When I visited Dynasty, customers were looking around for the latest, newest and coolest merchandise, scrutinizing the cases full of glittering diamonds, precious stones, gold and one-of-a kind earrings, bracelets, rings and necklaces. A fabulous jade and gold necklace caught my eye, but it’s unlikely that a Secret Gifter will one day make it mine. If, however, you are shopping for a statement necklace or brooch for Mother’s Day, Dynasty will not disappoint.

Another case displayed spectacular women’s shoes and sunglasses. Do people really come to a pawn shop for celebrity footwear and designer sunglasses? Yes, they do.

“We attract a clientele who appreciate our concentration on luxury,” says Levinson, whose son and store co-owner, Joel, runs Dynasty day to day. “We welcome everyone and try hard to make the most generous loans we can. Many of our customers are regulars. Sometimes people are unable to reclaim their possessions within 30 days, at which time these items could be put out for sale.

The pawners have the option of renewing their pawn contract, with an additional interest fee every extended month. Most jewelry is reclaimed; however, other areas have a lower retrieval rate.”

Stephanie Sinkoe Green in front of Metro Pawn.

To the right of Dynasty’s sparkling jewelry cases, which are the focus of the store, stands a stunning collection of designer handbags, all in pristine or brand-new condition. I’ve seen many of these iconic handbags and backpacks on the public sites of auction houses like Christie’s and Sotheby’s, so although the Dynasty prices seemed outrageous, they’re just the opposite. (Sports fans might want to visit Dynasty for an out-of-the-box Father’s Day gift.)

Joel Levinson is a trained gemologist who goes nowhere without a jeweler’s loupe around his neck. He can evaluate diamonds and maintains an onsite workshop for battery replacement, repairs and electronic steaming and cleaning. (While I was there, he made the 30-year-old ring I was wearing look better than new.) Dynasty also employs outside services that verify the authenticity of designer handbags and confirm the authenticity of natural diamonds, to distinguish them from lab-created gems. Dynasty’s posh inventory requires remote cameras that monitor every inch of the store.

Thirty-four-year pawnshop veteran Stephanie Sinkoe Green also learned essential gemology. She owns Metro Pawn, on Buford Highway in Doraville. Her high-end stock may be smaller than Dynasty’s, but it includes many immediately recognizable items and designer classics, like a charming MCM cross-body leather clutch.

Green makes a lot of loans on jewelry, nearly 90 percent of which are redeemed by their owners — a much higher rate than for her other merchandise. One of Green’s four safes holds the most exquisite jewelry, including a ring with a 10-carat smoky topaz, surrounded by a triple-tier 18K gold halo of diamonds beckoned — just the thing to wear to a royal wedding. (Alas, another unattainable pipedream deflated).

“When people come in to look at jewelry, I have lots of beautiful gold and smaller stone pieces in my cases. The exceptional jewels come out for special customers,” Green explained.

Jade and gold necklace at Dynasty

What about women who aren’t into designer shoes, sunglasses, purses or fine jewelry? It wasn’t time to leave the pawn shops yet. For the musically inclined, Dynasty had nearly a dozen guitars in a range of prices. Metro Pawn had a couple of good guitars and a gorgeous violin with a case and bow.

Both stores sold exercise equipment. In the front of the shop, Metro Pawn displayed a selection of trendy bicycles. For the photographer, there were professional cameras and related accessories.

“We make loans only on current, high-quality and popular goods and sell them in our store or on eBay at prices 25-50 percent less than anywhere else,” Green noted. “Collectors and hobbyists are frequent pawn shoppers, too, always adding to their personal troves.”

Still looking for Mother’s Day gifts, I found a shelf of brand-new kitchen appliances at Metro Pawn, still in their original boxes. “We are a cash business,” Greene explained, “Someone might receive an All-Clad cookware set or Ninja air fryer, but doesn’t need it or needs the cash more. When we make a loan, we always assume the item will be retrieved, but, except for jewelry, that’s not always the case. Many regular customers visit a few times a week, looking for new items which have immediate home or office use.”

Designer shoes and sunglasses at Dynasty

Wearing my Mother’s Day hat and feeling self-indulgent, I’m thinking about a charming Kitchen Aid standing mixer ($200 under the retail price — I had to ask), which would look peachy in my kitchen.

Today’s pawn stores are attractive, welcoming places to do business, and at least six of the pawnshops in Atlanta have Jewish owners. David Adelman ran Jerry’s Pawn Shop in Buckhead for nearly 35 years, becoming involved with the initiation of both the state and national Pawn Brokers Association, which heavily regulate the field.

“The dollar amount of a pawn loan is based strictly on the value of the item presented, not on an individual’s credit or credit score,” Adelman argues. “If a loan is forfeited, it will not affect one’s credit or credit score. The pawn loan is the only loan of its kind. While I was in the business, there were those who needed our services monthly and those who used our cash loans as needs arose.”

Dynasty Jewelry and Pawn’s Ben and Joel Levinson

The Levinsons, Green and Adelman all agree about the role of pawn shops. They are used as a bank, meeting an immediate need for cash when an individual cannot otherwise get a loan. Pawners tell their stories, confidentiality is secure, and sometimes a loan is made out of pure compassion, tiding someone over through a hard time or enabling an essential purchase. Most important is customer respect and courtesy.

“Many ethnic groups are strictly cash-based; they do not keep bank accounts, yet need a way to get immediate cash,” Green said. “Many people depend on pawnbrokers to help them meet daily financial needs. Pawn loans may keep the electricity on, the rent paid and cars running.”

Pawnbrokers also get to see the world through the eyes of people from different cultures, races, religions, perspectives and circumstances. “Where else can you try on an expensive diamond ring or Rolex watch, play a guitar, test out a Macbook, purchase a new Instapot and get close to a huge, mounted deer head, all within the same four walls?” asks Green.

Veteran pawnshop owner David Adelman

Pawnbroking is humankind’s oldest financial institution, going back at least 3,000 years to ancient China, when independent pawnbrokers offered short-term credit to the peasantry.

In 1388, England’s King Edward III pawned the royal jewels to finance the war against France. It’s believed that Christopher Columbus’s expeditions were financed through the pawning of royal jewelry belonging to Queen Isabella of Spain.

The pawnbroker’s traditional symbol is three gold spheres hanging from a bar, referring to St. Nicholas, who is reported to have left three bags of gold so the daughters of a poor man could afford to marry, thus saving them from a life of slavery or prostitution.

Throughout the Depression, banks failed and pawnshops were the only place in America offering money. In the United States alone, today there are some 12,000 pawnshops. Established in 1988, the National Pawnbrokers Association oversees the industry to make sure that shops uphold pawn contracts and accrued interest.

Every item is registered to ensure it is not stolen, and pawnbrokers comply with all federal, state and local pawnshop regulations. In Georgia, pawnshops provide local law enforcement with data on every transaction on a daily basis.

The Pawnbrokers Act of 1872 created regulations that protected pawnbrokers if they mistakenly sold stolen items, helping to set the guidelines for today’s industry standards.

read more: