Feb. 5, 2008 -- As more and more Americans cope with unemployment, struggle to pay their mortgages and deal with higher gas prices, it seems they are turning to pawn shops to get a little extra cash.
While there is no conclusive data, the National Pawnbrokers Association says its members have seen an increase in business.
Dave Adelman, president of the 2,400-member association, said that people are taking longer to pay back their loans and are more often taking the cash and never coming back for their goods.
"When these people come in, they need money. They need money to survive on," Adelman said. "It's a way of life for them. They have no where else to go to make ends meet."
Some pawn shops say they are also seeing a new group of more affluent customers coming into their stores.
"People are rummaging through the jewelry boxes, and stuff they are not wearing they are turning into cash," said Adelman, who also owns two pawn shops in Atlanta.
He said it is the same story from members across the country.
In California, Steve Hirschhorn is seeing more customers at his store, Unique Pawnbrokers, billed as "San Diego's Largest Pawn Shop."
Hirschhorn said recently he has seen a "more affluent, higher echelon" customer coming to the store. They are bringing in bigger diamonds and nicer watches.
The typical piece of artwork brought into his store is worth $1,000.
"We're now getting in pieces that [are] worth $8,000 and $10,000," Hirschhorn said.
The same is true with firearms. Instead of $600, $700 and $800 guns, he is now seeing some worth $5,000.
"More middle-class, more upper-class people are feeling a crunch," Hirschhorn said. "More white collar, suits and ties."
Hirschhorn also said the number of customers defaulting on their loans has increased slightly.
Don Sellers, owner of Abe's Pawn in Atlanta, said, "We're seeing more people that are coming in with stuff that have never been in a pawn shop ever before" such as clothing and coats.
"You get the feeling like they're almost down to nothing, that they have very little more to pawn," Sellers said.
But not all pawn shops are seeing an increase in business.
Frank Bedard, owner of Twin Ports Pawn in Duluth, Minn., said he is seeing a lot of competition from payday loan companies and pawn shop chains.
Jim Harris, owner of Golden Nugget Jewelry & Loan in Kansas City, Mo., also said he hasn't seen more traffic because of a poor economy.
"It's really pretty dull," Harris said. "Our loans aren't particularly up."