Pawns in the game of life


To become acclimated to a new community, sometimes you have to step out of your comfort zone. For me, this meant visiting a local pawn shop. 

Normally, I would have no curiosity whatsoever about emporiums of hocked merchandise. I’ve never been desperate enough to resort to this kind of financing, especially when you consider that the typical pawn shop looks like this:


This is not the sort of place I would feel safe patronizing, even just to window-shop. In South Florida, there was seemingly one on every corner of any town that wasn’t Palm Beach. Strangely enough, Florida is hardly the pawn shop capital of the United States. Last year, some guy in Boise, Idaho (a pawnbroker, naturally), took the trouble to make a state-by-state per capita calculation of pawn shops, with Alabama coming out on top. Mississippi is No. 4.

But thanks to a bombardment of local TV ads, my curiosity was piqued about a place on the west side of town called Choice Pawn. With slick production values, these commercials suggested that a pawn shop didn’t have to be a sleazy, back-alley enterprise. It could be as bright and cheery and customer-friendly as your community bank! Surely enough, the “about” section of Choice Pawn’s website asserts that they are the Rolls Royce of pawn shops:

“This is not your typical pawn shop. It’s a caliber of its own. Every element of Choice Pawn has been intentionally and strategically designed to be first class. From our championship-level customer service to the shining example of cleanliness of each of our stores, we’re creating the finest and most superior standards in all of collateral lending.”

Choice Pawn established its first-class foothold in June 2014, opening its “flagship” store in Fulton, Mississippi, 18 miles east of Tupelo, which was in turn touted as the location of the company’s “model” store that opened just a month later. The local newspaper dutifully covered the opening, which featured a ribbon cutting by the mayor and an appearance by an alleged celebrity who stars in a truTV reality series based at a pawn shop in Detroit. Choice Pawn was so pleased with its championship-level service that it boasted in a “news” story on its website that during its very first day of operation, some customers decided take items out of hock at the city’s competing pawn purveyors so they could then REPAWN them at Choice Pawn. It has since expanded its empire to Birmingham, Alabama, and Louisville, Kentucky.

So, of course, I had to experience a first-class pawn shop for myself, even though my instinct for self-preservation gave me no yardstick of experience to measure it against. As a budget-minded consumer, however, perhaps I could scout out some good bargains. In the course of making a late afternoon trip to the grocery store, I drove a bit farther down West Main Street to arrive at Choice Pawn, housed in a former pharmacy. The building’s signage gives marquee billing to “ELECTRONICS JEWELRY MUSIC GUNS,” and you don’t even have to cross the threshold to browse, with two humble fishing boats, one of them painted in camouflage, and a fleet of riding mowers arranged on the sidewalk outside the entrance.

As an apartment dweller and dedicated indoorswoman, I had no need for either of these things, so I pressed on and went inside to bear witness to this “shining example of cleanliness.” Upon crossing the threshold, I was immediately struck by … the odor of motor oil and gasoline. I looked to my right to find an impressive display of leaf blowers dwarfed only by the array of GUNS mounted on the back wall by the registers.

The display of JEWELRY included a pearl necklace laid out in an open, hinged box with a message affixed to the inside of the lid saying “To My Granddaughter … Grandma’s Pearls of Wisdom.” I didn’t get a good look at the Choice Pawn price, but further research led me to the Bradford Exchange, a leading seller of schlocky “collectibles,” where this very item retails for $99 online.


As a bonus, it includes a poem titled “Grandma’s Pearls of Wisdom,” penned not by high school English class stalwarts such as Robert Frost, William Carlos Williams, T.S. Eliot, or Emily Dickinson, but an author whose claim to fame, according to LinkedIn, is that she is a Copy Supervisor at the Bradford Group, the Bradford Exchange’s parent company. In this work of literary hucksterism, you won’t find any pearls of wisdom about whether buying an item from the Bradford Exchange, either directly or by way of Choice Pawn, is a sensible investment of your hard-earned cash.

I spent the most time perusing the MUSIC items. As expected, there was an abundance of guitars, calling to mind the plight of Tommy, one of the protagonists of Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ on a Prayer” who had his six-string in hock, as any member of my generation knows by heart. There was a much smaller selection of woodwind instruments, which saddened the heart of this former clarinet-playing band geek. They included a clarinet, an alto saxophone, and two flutes. I’d like to think that these items were simply the casualties of kids whose lackluster work ethic made them the Allen Iverson of their respective instruments, and not symptoms of some larger societal problem of middle school and high school students pawning their possessions to free up cash for drugs or whatever.

Next, I spotted a single forlorn bin of records on the floor next to a rack of Blu-ray discs. I understand that some kids today have become enthralled with vinyl and are amazed that it was possible to listen to music on something that was not an iPod back in the olden days, but I would not recommend Choice Pawn as a resource for their next pressed wax treasure, for reasons that become painfully obvious here:


It gets worse as you flip through the selection: various Paul Anka albums, “Andy Williams – Moon River and Other Great Movie Themes,” “Ray Conniff Plays the Bee Gees & Other Great Hits,” etc. Even though I gave up turntables a long time ago, one of my most prized possessions is Duran Duran’s “Seven and the Ragged Tiger” LP, which I bought in eighth grade and still have somewhere in storage. You will have to pry it from my cold, dead hands before you see it anywhere near Choice Pawn.

I was about 5 minutes into my visit by the time I started rifling through the record bin, at which point a Choice Pawn clerk asked me if I needed help. “Just browsing,” I mumbled, with full knowledge that I was depriving myself of championship-level customer service. Shortly thereafter, I was back in my car and on to Kroger. I wish the fine folks at Choice Pawn well as they look to further expand their empire (they’re targeting 20 cities across the South), but my curiosity has been cured.






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