Pawn Shop Shopping? I do it!

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Doing your holiday shopping at the pawn shop? WWJ’s Sandra McNeill reports that’s not so odd anymore.

Tom Blaine owns the Garden City Exchange and says his business though October is already up 49 percent over December of last year. The bad economy means he’s getting people selling new and high-end electronics like iPads and he says the popularity of reality shows mean people aren’t as embarrassed to shop there.

If you know a good pawn shop, one that is clean, reputable, up-front with you about the condition of things you’re purchasing, and prices fairly, it’s a good way to go. My husband had sold his drum set while in college, and missed playing them, so about ten years ago I found a terrific pawn shop — one where a lot of musicians seem to go to give up the goods. Got him a great set of Tama drums, complete, for an extremely reasonable price, and he is still pounding away on them.

I’ve never purchased jewelry or electronics from the pawn shop, but I find them to be great places to go for musical instruments, particularly if you’re trying to keep costs down while buying for a musician like my son Buster, who can play many instruments and wants to keep trying new things. When he expressed an interest in the banjo, I headed to the pawn shop and was happy to find a cheap one that the seller said was “a so-so quality.” That was really all Buster needed to discover that, while he liked the instrument, it would never be (like the sax, guitar, keyboards, bass or uke) something he’d be returning to regularly. He still picks it up from time to time, but for now — until he gets serious about it, if he ever does — the “so-so” quality banjo I got for under $100 seems like the right purchase and doesn’t make me feel like I spent too much.

It was via a pawnshop that we also got his 70-year old clarinet, which plays with such a sweet tone it breaks your heart (he still uses that) and the older flute which he hasn’t used much — I think he’s decided a 6-foot, 240lb guy looks incongruous with a flute.

But perhaps when he needs cash, he’ll head down to the pawnshop and turn it over for some Benjamins, and some other lucky kid will get a good instrument at an excellent price.

Truth be told, we hit the pawn shop again for this Christmas, again for Buster, but I can’t go into detail about that for obvious reasons. Suffice to say we found something terrific (an older piece, again, but when polished up it looks brand new) and bargained our way down to under $250, for something worth four times that.

And while we were there, my husband saw some tool he liked (a “chop saw” or “shop saw”?) that he said was three times cheaper than a new one would be.

Who knows, if we ever get around to renovating our 40-year old, dilapidated kitchen, perhaps I’ll buy him one. Used.

Buying stuff for a life I don’t live

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • Victor

    (((“What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?
    For what can a man give in return for his soul?”—Mark 8:36-38)))

    Victor what does that quote have to do with ‘Pawn Shop Shopping? I do it!’ anyway?

    Anchoress, forgive me but I guess my spirit and soul might be trying to tell me that some of my flesh cells have come close on some eternal days to cash them in.

    Who knows maybe some of God’s Angels are running invisible Pawn Shops to help a lot of U>S (usual sinners)?

    I could write a LOT more about “IT” but I better stop NOW instead!


  • Jenny

    What kind of clarinet did you get? I was a clarinet major in college so I am curious.

    [I don't recall; I just remember that when we asked a professional clarinetist to assess it for us, he said it was a professional-grade clarinet, from around the 1930's and if we ever wanted to sell it he'd grab it from us in a heartbeat because it has a very sweet, soulful tone. Buster's not getting rid of it, I know that! :-) admin]

  • Oregon Catholic

    I can’t help but feel icky at the thought of buying something that someone else may have hocked during hard times and was never able to redeem. I see them as being on one end of the spectrum that on the other includes short term, high interest lenders like pay day loans and lenders that take car titles as collateral. The poor who use these lenders get in over their head fast. I’d much rather buy from E-bay, Craig’s List, or an ad where the intention to SELL is clear.

    [You can't really know that, though. There are plenty of folks on ebay who go to estate sales or even pawn shops, know what they're buying, underpay and then turn a profit on these online lists. You can never know the provenance of a thing, really. All you can do is assume an intention. I assume these instruments were sold by progeny of deceased musicans (in the case of the older pieces) and by parents who regret spending so much on things their kids never played, and looked to recoup some of their investment. It's possibly I project myself onto those assumptions -- if I had no use for an instrument, I'd get rid of it. I'm not sentimental about things like that. -admin]

  • Manny

    I’ve never been to a pawn shop, either from a seller’s or buyer’s perspective. They look so seedy. The one’s I’ve passed by have been in the more run down part of towns. Plus I’ve got this image that I’m buying something that someone hated to give up but needed to for financial reasons and intends to get back as soon as his next paycheck comes in.

    [The shop I go to is very clean, in a "shoppers" neighborhood, and I don't get the impression that people are on their last legs when they sell stuff to it. I get the sense that they're done using them, the stuff is taking up space and they might as well sell it and get some cash for it. I can't possibly know why someone has sold a clarinet, but perhaps it was in the estate of someone who died, and the kids weren't interested. Perhaps someone had an instrument in highschool that they didn't play anymore. Perhaps someone sold the drumset because they realized they were lousy at drumming and preferred cash. Why should I assign the worst possible meaning to it? -admin]

  • Sue from Buffalo

    Anchoress, I think it’s because the movies/tv shows have done such a good job of writing that into their scripts. Every time you see a character take something into a pawn shop, it’s with great regret and need.

  • cathyf

    When my husband does a household project, there is almost always a requirement for purchasing some nifty tool or another. Sometimes I think it would be cheaper to hire a professional! But, now, a pawn shop sounds intriguing…

  • fiestamom

    I’ve never been in a pawn shop, I’m not sure if I’d be able to tell a “good one” or not. But I DO go to the local Goodwill shop. I live close to an affluent neighborhood, and I have made quite the purchases there. I buy my tween daughter all of her clothes there, Lily Pulitzer,Gap (w/ tags),a lot of brands from Nordstrom. She looks like a million bucks. But my primo primo primo find was from last week. I found a Barbie camp out tent from 1972 still in the box. It had the Barbie sleeping bags, fake campfire, Barbie utensils, the little camp table, everything, for $15. The Barbies on the box have little kerchiefs around their hair, as if they would ever have that now. :( But thanks for posting this, I have so wanted to brag about my amazing find.

  • kenneth

    After seeing “Pulp Fiction” I’ve never really had a comfort level with pawn shops. Even when I did stop in a few of them years ago, the vibe was a little like that. If you hear scary instrumental surf music, run!

    [If my kid wanted a Katana (don't laugh; they've hinted) I'd go to a pawn shop for it! -admin]

  • Gone to Pawn

    I’m glad you brought this up. I steer clear but maybe now will take a 2nd look. My highschool ring was stolen during a performance while I was a frosh in college. I always thought of hitting up the pawn shops in Silicon Valley to see if he/she hocked it, the perp jerk.

    I heard Victoria Vox sing Happy Holidays and after reading this post thought of Buster. He might like her rendition as she had a toy piano with a nice uke sound. Well done too, kinda winsome but still tasteful despite the whimsy. A perfect pawn shop theme song. Maybe she bought her instruments at a pawn shop. The Greeniacs would love her: reuse/recyled instruments.

    I always wondered what it was like to tackle the banjo. Good for him. Talk about the Charism of Music!

  • kenneth

    [If my kid wanted a Katana (don't laugh; they've hinted) I'd go to a pawn shop for it! -admin]

    Seriously, EVERY pawn shop I ever go into has at least a couple of katanas. Every last one. Why is that? Do Samurai frequently fall on hard time or have gambling issues?

    And your instinct not to buy them for young lads in particular, is a wise one. In our early teens somehow or another my brother and I acquired a set of hardwood katanas, bokken. They didn’t carry the same risk of beheading, but they were serious weapons in their own right. When we got a bit older and adept at carpentry, we had a LOT of work to put the walls right in my poor mother’s house.

    On the plus side, our many duels made my younger brother the equal of Musashi himself, and eventually a very good soldier and police officer. Of course the katana is not one of his standard issue weapons, and more’s the pity. Today’s law enforcement knows only the taser and pepper spray, and nothing of the old ways and honor!

  • Jeanette

    We went through an entire kitchen remodel and all new floors (hardwood and tile) last year. While the tradesmen were doing their work we found several bargains for tools my husband could use such as hammer guns and I picked a nice camera for next to nothing. And it’s in great shape if I can ever figure out exactly how to use it properly.

    I’m thinking of going to the local community college to take a course in photography so maybe I’ll be able to get a better camera and some lenses for it.

    It’s nice visiting you again, my friend. I guess we have both been too busy to exchange friendly emails but I think of you often and pray for you. You’re the best!

  • Ellen

    I’ve never been to a pawn store, but the town where I live is broken out with second hand stores. A friend of mine bought an 8 piece place setting of beautiful china at one of them for 100.00. I’ve bought pictures, lamps and other pieces for very cheap.

  • Lawrence Cunningham

    The three golden balls that are the traditional sign of a pawn shop derives from the story of Saint Nicholas who left three bags of coins at the foot of the bed of three young girls whose father was to sell them into prostitution becuase, poor as he was, he could not afford dowries for them.
    The ancestor of the pawn shop is the traditional monte de pieta’ – common well into the modern age.

  • Rhinestone Suderman

    Of course, the “reality” show Pawn Stars hasn’t done much to help pawnshops’ seedy image.

  • Kort

    My dad bought my first flute at a pawn shop. It was the best gift I got that Christmas. A few years ago, I got a tuba that I don’t think had really been used. The pawn shop has been good to me. However, when I bought my mom a guitar to replace the one she lost in college, she was pissed that I got it at the pawn shop. So, depends on the attitude but the pawn shop can be a good place.

  • daisy

    I don’t buy anything used anymore. It’s a great way to bring bedbugs home.