My wedding ring came from a pawn shop. It holds a large, sparkling diamond and looks like a delicate rose. My fiancé found it himself and I love it. I’m marrying into a family with a crazy knack for finding amazing things in unlikely places.
Even still, I feel a little like I should say the words “pawn shop” in whispers. I’d never entered one in my life until last month. When I did, I found a surprising variety of unique antiques, curious oddities, wonderful discounts, and, of course, some junk. I was reminded of going to “treasure stores” (commonly known as “thrift stores”) with my grandmother.
Utah Valley is home to over a dozen pawn shops. Having only explored the pawn shops of Yakima, Washington, I set out to see what our local community held hidden between bakeries and boutiques. My journey led me to a trio of three pawn shops, nestled together like unlikely siblings on a single block of Provo’s Center Street. Visiting the shops, getting involved in conversations within, and soaking up their auras showed me that pawn shops, like people, are unique individuals able to offer novelty, discount, and a little adventure to residents of Utah Valley.
Quick Cash Pawn Shop
My first stop led me to Quick Cash Pawn Shop. From the outside, the inside was a mystery. The windows were covered in bold, large-lettered signs with words like “Cash for Gold” and “Top Dollar Paid.” A line of snowboards was propped against one window. People seemed to slip silently in and out, heads down.
Inside, the store was like a maze of pop culture. Speakers to one side. Longboards to another. An entire wall of DVDs and Video games for sale. Loud music played and customers went in and out quietly.
Before speaking to anyone, I perused the selections. iPods, cameras, cell phones, guitars, golf clubs, sewing machines, and even a motorcycle made up part of the array. Behind the cash registers were guns and ornate swords. Almost immediately, a black dog that looked like a Labrador padded up to me softly, almost shyly. The dog stuck with me as I looked at iPods for $59 and $69. I finally gave in to petting him. Later I found out his name was Sam.
This pawn shop seemed to cater to young people seeking entertainment—it gave me a little of a hardcore scene vibe. I wanted to talk to the owner, but he wasn’t in. Instead I spoke with Reed, one of the employees, who declined to give his last name.
Reed, in his tight t-shirt, didn’t tell me much and rarely seemed to look me in the eye. He did tell me that the most interesting thing in the shop was when the “tweekers,” or drug users, would come in. Maybe he thought I wanted to make pawn shops look bad or was worried his boss wouldn’t like him talking. Whatever the reason, I figured it was time to go.
L&M Trade Center
My next stop, just a business away, was worlds away in atmosphere. L&M was a small shop that reminded me more of a thrift store than a place to soup up a bachelor pad. What struck me first was the conversation: trying to raise the price of a pawn to make enough to afford a pack of cigarettes.
Dave Pressler, co-owner of L&M, talked comfortably with his patrons. Wearing track pants and sporting curly blonde hair like a surfer, he seemed willing to roll along with almost any conversation. He did have one rule, though.
“F-word does not work in here,” Pressler told a customer, continuing with a friendly tone.
For Pressler, running L&M is more of a hobby than a job. He inherited the business from his father-in-law, but also drives trains.
“Hands down, I love people,” Pressler explained, saying that people were his favorite part of the pawn business. Pressler shared that in pawning you see a variety of people. Sometimes, he says, their circumstances can make you feel very humble. For example, sometimes a person will come in and all they need is $5.
“I’m not better than anyone,” Pressler said.
He tries to meet his patrons on their level. This was easy to see as he joked and chatted with a group of young adults, including a man who had served time and a small woman with a nose piercing and dyed-hair.
Michelle, the small woman who is one of Pressler’s customers, says she likes L&M because of the way she’s treated there. Michelle has pawned items herself and says some pawn shops treat people poorly.
L&M doesn’t seem to be one of those shops. I overheard Pressler telling a customer how to identify real diamonds. I also heard him kindly but firmly make sure a customer wasn’t smoking around her baby.
“I’m an honest guy. I don’t try to pull any punches,” Pressler told a customer.
Besides offering an open atmosphere, L&M sells a mix of items from $50 snowboards to an enormous flat screen TV. My trip to L&M continued to convince me that pawn shops are as different as people.
AAA Trading & Pawn
With my next stop, I was met with another surprise. Yet another unique atmosphere, only steps away from the other two shops, AAA Trading & Pawn is a large shop with two floors and several rooms. To me, it looked a little like an orderly hunting lodge.
The lighting was warm and mounted antlers decorated the walls. One wall featured rifles and shotguns. Beneath these was a row of DVDs. On the other side, guitars spanned the wall length. In the center of the entry room was a ring of glass cases glittering with jewelry—a good scene for other pawn shop princesses in the making.
The next room was full of every sort of tool and construction item. Beyond that was a room stacked with speakers and lined with stereos. Upstairs I found more tools and a variety of items. I also found an installed kitchen sink and oven, making me think AAA used to be someone’s home.
AAA is a family-owned pawn shop co-owner Brent Johnson operates with his “folks.”
Besides offering items for sale, Johnson explains that his business offers money to people who can’t obtain traditional credit.
“What’s neat for me is just helping people,” Johnson says.
AAA offers a lower interest rate than the usual pawn shop and is often more lenient when people aren’t able to quite reclaim their pawned items in 30 days (the usual time frame).
Johnson believes that pawn shops are important for the community. For example, he explains that they can help out young families.
However, he feels that pawn shops often get a bad reputation. When I asked him if this was deserved, he said that some pawn shop owners are greedy and are sometimes “almost as desperate as the people [who pawn items].”
“There’s a few of us that really want to make [pawning] a reputable business,” said Johnson.
Judging by the size and clean atmosphere of the shop, along with Johnson’s attitude, it seemed to me that he was succeeding in that goal.
These three pawn shops, all so different, remind me a little of our community. We’re all huddled together on the same block of the world and might not look like much from the exterior. However, as with the pawn shops, it’s the looking within that reveals the treasure.
By Sierra Wilson
Assistant Editor of the V