Pawn Shop Prosperity

"I've never been in a pawn shop, never," Crook said. "I've been bawling all morning because we didn't have any money. I got laid off from my job in a homebuilder after all these years."

Cash America says its average pawn customer comes in two to three times a year and gets $100 each time. For payday customers the average is $300 and they'll pay about $15 or $20 for every $100 borrowed for 30 days.

Feehan says that's equivalent to an annual percentage rate of 240 percent.

Stephen Chaplin, who wanted to refinance a loan by using Cash America Payday Advance, says he's read the fine print, and knows what he signed up for.

"I'm very lucky to have this place," he said.

"Sometimes if you have several checks that are going to bounce and you're trying to get $500 spread around town, you have the option of bouncing those checks or coming here and getting a $45 fee on a $300 loan," said the vice president of Cash America, Mary Jackson.

Lani Jones, who says she buys, quote, "everything" at the Cash America pawn shop, admits it's a bittersweet experience.

"I have sold before, back in the old days. But now I pretty much buy. But I see a lot of people selling. And it's pretty sad. The price of gas is high, groceries is high. Everything's going up. It's sad seeing these people," she said. "And it's sad when I buy sold things, like mothers' rings. You know those type of things meant something to somebody."

As much as bad news makes good business, Feehan worries about the market slumping even further.

"You gotta remember we are a lending business and ultimately our business works best when people are paying us back. And if a recession is very steep and very extended, it will not be good for our business," he said. "It's a balance that we have to continually monitor and continually keep."

And a careful balance for those seeking alternative credit as well.

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