We’re going to discuss something different than what you usually find in this space, yet it’s something we are all intimately familiar with: TV, specifically, the runaway reality show hit “Pawn Stars,” now one of the most popular shows on cable.
Deb and I never miss this show. And we’ve found that online sellers are often big fans, too. It’s not just us!
It makes sense. The guys running the pawn shop are: Rick Harrison, the owner and dad/son on the show; Richard Harrison, aka “The Old Man,” co-owner and Rick’s dad; Corey Harrison, aka “Big Hoss,” Rick’s son and now also a part-owner; and family friend Chumlee—who just happens to be the show’s most popular star—see items online sellers would love to buy and/or sell.
The show is set at the Gold and Silver Pawn Shop in downtown Las Vegas. They owners buy and sell some of the same types of items many eBay sellers either sell now, or sold, not long ago. That is, aside from all the $100,000 Super Bowl rings, the Picassos and 600-year-old bibles you can find there.We were starting to believe what we had read: that the Gold and Silver Pawn Shop was Las Vegas’ busiest tourist attraction
Undoubtedly, all the cool things these guys come across, discuss and display, help make the show a hit. Then there is the haggling over prices—an art Rick Harrison has a Ph.D. in—and the chance to actually learn some history as he and the staff provide background on the items they’re thinking of buying.
Finally, in 2013, there’s something comforting about how well this family works together, even though they are far from clones of one another. Their sniping at one another is almost always good natured—this is not “The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.”
We had to see this place for ourselves. We had to see the Las Vegas neighborhood, the march of cool things coming through the door, that cool stuff displayed for sale and the show’s stars. So we went to Las Vegas to do just that.
Tour turns authors into kids
Now fast forward a day or two. We’re in Las Vegas, and actually have an appointment to meet with the local public relations rep for the pawn shop and even get a tour of the “Pawn Stars” pawn shop. Were we excited? Like kids at a new playground.
Knowing that when you are “cabbing” it everywhere a little distance can mean a lot of money, we first checked with our hotel’s concierge to see how far the Gold and Silver Pawn Shop was. After sharing the details she said, “And you know, Rick even answers the phone sometimes!”
Then she had a tip: “Bring water when you go down, as there are often big lines.”
Next, the doorman let it all hang out.Traffic in the store had grown from about 50 people a day to 3,000 to 5,000 people with the show’s fame
“That’s my show!” he said, resplendent in his uniform. Yes, our cabbie was chatty, too, when we said where we wanted to go.
“Oh, I met Chumlee,” he told us. “You know, he’s cool and a lot smarter than you think.”
We were starting to believe what we had read: that the Gold and Silver Pawn Shop was Las Vegas’ busiest tourist attraction.
On the way there we passed Rick’s Restorations. This Rick is Harrison’s buddy who sometimes restores what Harrison buys, and is one of the experts the show brings in. Next to the shop’s sign, and almost as big, was another sign that said “As seen on TV.”
Those signs got us thinking about whether they pay the experts who they call in during the show.
Perhaps via a retainer? We later found out that the experts have seen big spikes in their businesses thanks to their participation, so no; they don’t get money for being on the show. The exposure is payment enough.
Show’s popularity means long lines
Like a flash we, were there.
Once you’ve checked out that famous sign and gawked at the line of people filed single file, patiently waiting to enter the store, the overall roughness of the area sets in. If you’re as paranoid as Brad, you then wonder how safe it will be to leave there and get back to the hotel.
That’s because you have to walk a couple of blocks to get to the cab stand, which we’re told was built just to accommodate the added traffic from the show. But come on! This, after all, is a pawn shop, and in Las Vegas, nonetheless.
Of course it’s in the sort of neighborhood where lots of people sell liquor, cash checks, provide bail and, yes, operate pawn shops. This store’s been there since 1988. They didn’t move it because it’s a hot show now on the History Channel.
Back to the store. Although it was a Monday morning, there were—as the picture shows—a long line of people waiting to get in. They were quite animated despite the rare Las Vegas cold. They also queued up as though they were about to meet celebrities, which they were.
The lines were big, not exactly Disneyland big, but, say, Black Friday big.
People had to wait for the day’s filming to end, at which point they would be let in. We learned filming takes place about three times per day, for an hour each time, five days a week.
The long lines are there most days. Our guide, Andy, said traffic in the store had grown from about 50 people a day to 3,000 to 5,000 people with the show’s fame.
We wondered if most of them were just looking.
“No,” Andy said. “About 80 percent leave with something.” Wouldn’t it be fantastic if emerchants had sell-through rates anywhere near that?
Pawn stars are also collectors
As we waited for our tour, a few people appeared at the front of the line to ask about going in to sell or pawn items. A pawn store employee (often Andy) took a look at what they had, and if it met their test, they let them in.
Everyone else had to wait a bit. This is the set for a top TV show, after all, not just a business. But Andy was nice enough to take us in early, and we were kids again.
We soon learned the people who work there tend to have their favorite things to buy and collect for themselves. For the Old Man it’s cars. Harrison likes old rock memorabilia. For Chumlee, it’s video games and brand-name sneaks.
Andy liked guns, which I know nothing about. Still, even the guns interested me since many are antiques. Andy showed us an Eli Whitney rifle.
Apparently, Cotton Gins were not his only bag. Other items included Rolexes, old casino chips, guitars, slot machines, ancient clocks and much more.For an hour each day, Chum sits behind a modest table tucked away discretely in a corner of the store and signs swag for fans. He will sign anything for charity as long as it sells for at least $20
Yes, the store also sold plenty of what they unabashedly call swag, not just the normal T-shirts and hoodies you would expect, but also bumper stickers calling for Chumlee for president.
But the guys have turned this swag into a way to make money—not just for the History Channel and themselves, but also for various charities.
For an hour each day, Chum sits behind a modest table tucked away discretely in a corner of the store and signs swag for fans. He will sign anything for charity as long as it sells for at least $20.
Before we go any further, a word about our tour guy, Andy: Besides giving tours, he’s also the store’s compliance officer. That means he deals with the cops on behalf of the store if an item someone brings in is believed stolen.
Fortunately, we’re told this happens less than half of 1 percent of the time. Andy also provides security and, given his imposing size, we didn’t doubt it.
Next time we’ll continue our tour and describe what it’s like to hold a $100,000 Super Bowl ring, a bar of silver and much more. In Part 3 of our “Pawn Stars” series, we’ll talk with their online store manager.