Tampa pawnbrokers are doing more business amid inflation and gas prices

It’s 2pm on a Thursday at the A-Universal Pawn Shop in Egypt Lake-Leto.

Soft pop music from the 80s is playing on the radio. Signed photos of Ben Affleck and Kevin Costner hang on the wall by the door. And guitars float above glass jewelry cabinets.

Rick Evans, the store owner, talks to a regular customer about turning an earring into a belly ring for her.

After the busy rush has died down, his pawn shop is empty for about an hour.

Evans and his mother sit in matching gray armchairs and sip coffee, as they do together every Thursday to catch their breath before the next wave of customers.

Evans said he’s seen a lot of new faces in his shop lately and talked a lot about making ends meet.

“Everyone talks about the rising prices,” Evans said. “They talk about, you know, whether or not they can keep their job because their gas prices have doubled and they can’t afford to go to work. And unfortunately these people are suffering.”

But pawnshops across the country are not. They’re doing deals they haven’t seen since the 2008 financial crisis.

Michael Goldstein is treasurer of the National Pawn Association and owner of an eight-store chain of pawn shops in Boston.

A numbers person, he said that although inflation is at its highest in 40 years, it’s gas prices that are hurting his customers the most.

“The economic ups and downs of the stock market don’t affect my clients,” he said. “My client is the guy who holds the door open at the Ritz, he’s not the guy who goes to the Ritz. So he’s not as heavily invested in the stock market as most middle- and upper-class people are.”

Goldstein said the main difference he noticed this time compared to 2008 is that he didn’t see any middle-class business owners making an effort to pawn their items for cash.

But back in Tampa, that’s not the case.

Joe Cacciatore has owned Capital Pawn for 25 years. That year, he said he saw more gold and silver jewelry in his store than ever before.

“It was incredible,” said Cacciatore. “The people who come in are not just poor people, they are wealthy people who are probably living beyond their means. And they bring heirlooms from their families. And more and more people are struggling to pay their bills.”

Dayline Miller

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Public WUSF Media

Capital Pawn owner Joe Cacciatore said he pays off loans anywhere from $100 to $20,000. But he also has items in his store that he considers “priceless”.

Cacciatore said he tries to help people when he can.

“I really thought the public would eventually run out of gold and silver. But sir,” he said. “And they throw them on my desk and I’m like, ‘So what do you want to do? We have to sell.’ I say, “You certainly don’t want to pawn them and leave them to yourself [family]?’ That is not enough. And so I give them the money.”

At A-Universal, Juan Garcia enters the Evans store. The fiber optic cable installer carries a drill and an armful of tools.

“A client gave me these while I was working at his house,” he told Evans.

Garcia, like many Evans customers, is just trying to fill up his gas tank.

“My boss occasionally throws me some money for gas when I need it. So I’m just trying to do that on my own so I don’t have to get it from him,” Garcia said.

Evans doesn’t like buying tools – but jewelry is the be-all and end-all of his shop. He said that due to the volatility of recent years, pieces he was selling at the height of the pandemic are coming back to his store.

“When the pandemic came and they sent out the stimulus checks, people would come in and buy gold,” Evans said. “Lots of people came in, they bought gold, they bought diamonds, they bought things they didn’t have before . And so what we’re seeing is that some of those things are actually coming back to us. And that’s how it’s a balanced exchange and that’s how it works.”

Evans tells Garcia to go down the street to another pawn shop that buys tools where they might fetch a better price and give Garcia the money he needs.

“You have to pay for gas, you know. If it’s $10 a gallon, you still have to pay. or you go Or ride a bike. You have to deal with it,” he said. “But otherwise everything is fine. It’s part of life, man.”

But Evans comes over quickly and tells Garcia that if he can’t find anyone to take the tools, he’ll give him $40.

Tools in hand, Garcia drives off in his pickup truck, burning gas while searching for money to keep his tank full.

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