Monday, June 20, 2011

"License to Pawn" by Rick Harrison

If you've never flipped over to "Pawn Stars" on the History Channel, then you probably have no idea who Rick Harrison is. Or the Old Man, or Big Hoss, or Chumlee. Do yourself a favor and watch an episode or two, then pick up this book.

Normally when a book is released in conjunction with a TV show, I find myself sort of flipping/skipping through it. The "author" never has much to say that hasn't already been covered on the show, and it's usually not written too well, either. Well, surprise! Harrison has done an excellent job of making this just as entertaining and informative as the show. (A big sign that this is a guy who knows what he's doing - his name is the only one listed as the author, not Rick Harrison "with" or "and").

For example, I'm always amazed that everyone on the show wants to sell their items. Um, it's a pawn shop, right? So why no clips with anyone pawning anything? There's a very good reason, as it turns out: pawn transactions are considered loans, and all loan information is privileged and private. When someone comes in to sell an item, that's a plain old business transaction, and there is no expectation of privacy. See, you learn something new every day! Also, when Rick calls in his experts, it's often for educational purposes. Most of the time, he's already got a very good idea of what the object is and how much it's worth (the educational part was the History Channel's idea - they wanted an "Antiques Roadshow with attitude").

I think the most interesting part of the book was Rick's story. He's a 10th-grade dropout, but he's a genius. Literally. He also has epilespy, and as a child, he had grand mal seizures that were so bad he had to stay home from school for a week or more at a time. His way to cope with the loneliness and uncertainty of life? BOOKS! He read just about everything he could get his hands on, including a lot of math and science books (he still reads a lot of that genre "for fun"). This is why he knows as much as he does about the things that come into the shop - he's a voracious reader and he retains lots of little factoids. If you learn anything from this book, it should be the power of the written word!

There are chapters written by Rick's dad, Old Man; his son, Corey (aka Big Hoss); and of course, Corey's long-time friend, Austin (aka Chumlee). You'll find out Rick's rules of negotiation, the history of the store, and why none of the main characters can work the floor anymore. Chumlee leads the pack in "swag" sales - all the t-shirts, shot glasses, etc with pictures of each of the leads. And there are lots of stories about how pawning items works, why people pawn, and the sort of characters they get in the store.

Probably the neatest thing I realized reading this book was that a pawn store is a lot like a library. Now, before you laugh, there's a reason I say this! As Rick points out, he doesn't judge people by what they bring in to pawn, nor does he care why they want/need the money. And he will work with anyone who walks in the door, unless it's extremely obvious that what they're bringing in has been stolen. The library does pretty much the same thing - it's a public institution available to all, and we don't care what you check out as long as your account is in good standing. The only bummer for the library is that we don't really have a way to recoup our loss if you take off with our item; Rick can hold onto the pawned item and then sell it if the pawner never picks it up again. Both places see all types, from the completely downtrodden to the well-to-do. And the stories we could tell about our clientel would probably sound awfully similar....

"License to Pawn" is a very good book, and I highly recommend it. Probably the closest you'll be able to get to the store now that they're famous!

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