Tampa pawn shops are doing more business amid inflation and gas prices

It’s 2pm on Thursday at A-Universal Pawn shop in Egypt Lake-Leto.

Pop music from the 80s plays softly on the radio. Signed photos of Ben Affleck and Kevin Costner hang on the wall by the door, and guitars hover above glass jewelry cases.

Rick Evans, the shop’s owner, talks to a regular customer about turning an earring into a belly ring for her.

After the busy hustle and bustle dies down, his pawn shop is empty for about an hour.

Evans and his mother sit in matching gray lounge chairs and drink coffee, as they do every Thursday together, to catch their breath before the next wave of customers.

Evans said he’s seen a lot of new faces in his shop lately and heard a lot of talk about making ends meet.

“Everybody’s talking about the rising prices,” Evans said. “They’re talking about, you know, deciding whether or not they can keep their jobs because their gas prices have doubled and they can’t afford to go to work. And, unfortunately, those people are hurt.

But pawnshops in the country are not. They are doing business the likes of which they haven’t seen since the 2008 financial crisis.

Michael Goldstein is the treasurer of the National Pawn Shop Association and the owner of a chain of eight stores and pawn shops in Boston.

He’s a numbers guy and said that while inflation is the highest it’s been in 40 years, it’s gas prices that are hurting his customers the most.

“The economic ebbs and flows of the stock market, they don’t affect my clients,” he said. “My client is the man who holds the door to the Ritz, he is not the man who walks into the Ritz. So he is not as invested in the stock market as most middle and upper middle class people.

Goldstein said the key difference he’s noticed this time compared to 2008 is that he hasn’t seen middle-class business owners struggling to pawn their belongings for cash.

But back in Tampa, that’s not the case.

Joe Cacciatore has owned Capital Pawn for the past 25 years. This year, he said he’s seen more gold and silver jewelry coming into his store than ever before.

“It was amazing,” Cacciatore said. “The people who are coming in are not just poor people, but they are rich people who are probably living beyond their means. And they carry heirlooms from their family. And more and more people are struggling to pay their bills.

Daylina Miller

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WUSF Public Media

Capital Pawn owner Joe Cacciatore said loan prices range from $100 to $20,000. But he also has items in his store that he considers “priceless.”

Cacciatore said he tries to help people when he can.

“I thought indeed society would eventually run out of gold and silver, but my lord,” he said. “And they throw them on my desk and I say, ‘So what do you want to do?’ We have to sell.” I say, ‘You sure you don’t want to pawn them and leave them to you [family]?’ This is not enough. So I give them the money.”

At A-Universal, Juan Garcia walks into Evans’ store. The fiber optic installer carries a power drill and a handful of tools.

“A customer gave them to me while I was working on his house,” he told Evans.

Garcia, like many of Evans’ customers, is just trying to fill his gas tank.

“My boss throws me gas money every now and then when I need it. So I’m just trying to do this on my own so I don’t have to get it from him,” Garcia said.

Evans isn’t big on buying tools, but jewelry is the bread and butter of his shop. He said that because of the volatility of the past few years, pieces he sold at the height of the pandemic are returning to his store.

“When the pandemic came and they sent out the stimulus checks, people came in and bought gold,” Evans said. “They bought diamonds, they bought things they didn’t have before. So what we’re seeing is that some of that stuff is actually coming back to us. So the exchange is even and that’s how it works out.”

Evans tells Garcia to go down the road to another pawn shop that buys tools, where they can get a better price, giving Garcia the money he needs.

“You have to pay for gas, you know. If it’s $10 a gallon, you still have to pay. Or you go. Or ride a bike. You have to deal with it,” Garcia said. “But other than that, it’s fine. It’s part of life, man.

But Evans quickly comes over and tells Garcia he’ll give him $40 if he doesn’t find someone else to take the tools.

Tools in hand, Garcia drives off in his pickup truck, burning gas as he searches for money to keep his tank full.

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