If you read part one of this series, you learned (if you didn’t know before) what a huge hit the History Channel show “Pawn Stars” is, how the show has become the talk of Las Vegas and that long lines of people wait to get into the store each day as if they were waiting to get into Best Buy on Black Friday.
It’s now Las Vegas’ biggest attraction, and in a city with The Mob Museum, the Liberace Museum, and some of the glitziest shows and casinos in the world, that’s saying a lot.
You probably noticed how much we like the show and the store. Here’s why: There’s a lot of cool stuff in the Gold and Silver Pawn Shop, and it’s the kind of stuff many eBay sellers may have sold themselves at one time. They’re probably interested in much of it. The family is also real and funny, and each member has a distinct personality.
The show features storeowner Rick Harrison, his son Big Hoss, family friend Chumlee—who is the show’s most popular star—and Harrison’s dad, “the Old Man,” who started the store back in 1988. During the show there are plenty of chances to learn facts about things that interest you, as the guys negotiate with sellers.
A thousand transactions a week
Here we’ll continue our tour of the store, but first, a few more facts. The Gold and Silver Pawn Shop now completes about 1,000 transactions a week. This includes things that are pawned, as well as items people actually buy.
When an item is pawned, the store holds it as security against borrowed cash and staff members charge a 13-percent interest rate, compounded monthly. It was quickly pointed that this isn’t so bad when you compare it to the rate some credit cards charge.
How much does the store make in a year? Millions. Consider that its largest Las Vegas competitor, even when the take from its 15 stores is combined, doesn’t make as much as the Gold and Silver Pawn Shop.
If you’ve watched the show, you’ve probably detected the Old Man’s fondness for old cars. One of the first things we saw was his beautifully restored 1941 Oldsmobile that appears on the show from time to time.
While this is the Old Man’s pride and joy, he has 12 other cars.
We saw many other items from the show, right there in display cases, on the walls and right in front of us. These included sextants—the original GPS—antique pickle jars, expensive and original pieces of art, and more. The most expensive item in the store is a 2001 New England Patriots Super Bowl ring.
For $100,000 it could be yours. We were surprised at how heavy the ring was when they insisted we wear it. But considering all those jewels and the sheer size of it, we shouldn’t have been. They had a whole display case of rings like it. Several had sold within the past year—each for $100,000.
‘Average Joes’ hit it big
We got a peek at some of the back areas, including the warehouse space, the offices and so on. Although it was understandably off-limits to visitors, the Old Man’s office was gorgeous—lots of wood, the coolest collectibles and why not? If he didn’t have cool items in his office, who would?
We asked our tour guide, Andy, the store’s security and compliance officer, why he thought the show was so popular.
“They are all average Joes who just hit it big,” he said. “They sign autographs, and they pose for pictures.”
They may be just regular guys, but they eat better these days and probably sleep under better sheets now.
They have money and power, too. The pawn stars now have their own Bally’s Slot Machine. If your symbols add up just right, you can negotiate with Harrison and the Old Man. And when Harrison wanted to give his stepdaughters a treat, he arranged for them to meet Justin Bieber. Not many average Joes can do that. And that’s OK. They have a hit show, and they work hard to keep it that way.
The fan base
We were curious about who actually watches the show.
Maybe it’s because before we left on our trip we were watching the show at home and saw an ad we’d never seen before. It was for an online dating service called FarmersOnly.com—where you can meet hundreds of down to earth country folks today!
So, yes, a lot of rural folks and NASCAR fans watch the show. But a lot of city people must like it, too. For the most recent week that stats were available, “Pawn Stars” was the sixth most popular cable TV show, with nearly 5 million viewers.
When you walk around the store, you see a lot of signs near items for sale that read “As seen on ‘Pawn Stars,’” as if having the item appear on TV makes it more valuable—maybe it does?
It was interesting that some items were for sale, but others were not. A championship belt that belonged to heavyweight champion Michael Spinks carried a $25,000 price tag, but it was Harrison’s, we were told, and not for sale.
But you could buy at least one of Frank Sinatra’s gold records, several Jimi Hendrix lithographs and a uniform that Willie Mays wore for $80,000. We saw a vintage juke box, in fantastic shape, which was bought from the family who owns the Palms Hotel. There were lots of coins there, which really appealed to these old numismatists, so when given the chance to hold a 100-troy ounce silver bar (worth $3,850) we grabbed it.
There are 150 artists represented in the store, from Picasso, to Chagall, to Warhol.
Only a few inches from us was a bible from the late 1500s for sale for only $6,000, which—considering its age—didn’t seem bad.
We saw a baseball many members of the infamous Chicago Black Sox team had signed. There were Star Trek trading cards, “memory cards” (flash cards) from the movie Pinocchio, and an Arthur Ashe signed poster and tennis racket.
There was a Mickey Mantle game day pin, apparently given out one day when the Yankees honored the slugger at home. So there’s all this stuff you may have seen on the show. The guys also sell plenty of swag.
We bought home a “Pawn Stars” hoodie, but they will also sell you a light bulb from the store sign for $5 to $10. We later learned light bulbs are a big collectible right now, and not just those from their sign.
In the final part of this series we’ll speak with the manager of the pawn stars’ online business and see how that operates.