By Ellen Fix

Looking for a great deal on a digital camera, a diamond ring, a guitar or a fur coat? There are options: buy online, wait for a sale at a department store or boutique. Or – for a completely different shopping experience – visit a pawn shop.

Pawn shops offer some of the best bargains around; everything is negotiable. Besides, the merchandise changes every day, so you’ll always find something different to suit your fancy.

While some question the legitimacy of pawn shops, Sandy Springs residents Dave and Sheila Adelman, owners of Jerry’s Pawn Shop in Buckhead and downtown Atlanta, share a different opinion.

“It’s a great place to buy things,” Adelman said. “Last year one customer bought six mink coats – one for everybody in her family. She comes in because she knows we’re a great resource where you buy used items at roughly 50 percent of retail cost.”

The Adelmans have even made loans for gold teeth. One individual actually pawned a glass eye. Generally they are selective in what they will accept, particularly on computer equipment and electronics. Pawnbrokers won’t usually lend more money than they think they can get if the pledged item is not redeemed and must be sold.

Buckhead store opened in 1995

Dave knew nothing about the pawn industry in 1986 when he and wife started out by taking over the downtown store from Sheila’s dad, Jerry Mandel, upon his retirement. They opened the Buckhead store in 1995.

He apparently learned the business quickly. David recently was named president of the National Pawnbrokers Association. His passion for the business led him to help form the Pawnbrokers Association of Georgia 1988 and served as its past president.

Like other retail stores, Jerry’s Pawn Shop offers frequent discounts and special promotions – such as a private customer appreciation sale each December. Unlike other stores, however, the owners are required to collect personal data on those who pawn and file a police report on every transaction. Because the truth is, stolen goods do occasionally end up on their shelves.

Police use the personal identification information to cross-check pledged items against any reported stolen items. If the stolen item is subsequently purchased, it must be returned and the pawnbroker must refund the purchase price to the customer.

Obviously, the Adelmans don’t knowingly accept stolen goods. And they want to protect their customer base, but they are required to transmit personal data along with the item descriptions. This is a sticking point for the Adelmans – as it is for pawnbrokers everywhere.

Besides losing money when stolen goods are discovered, they said they feel the regulation intrudes on U.S. privacy laws. They want to ensure that there is a safe harbor for all information transmitted so as to not be held liable for any breach of the law.

That’s the downside of the business. But the upside is that Jerry’s Pawn Shop has developed a loyal clientele spanning second and third generations, from families with low incomes and blue-collar folks to the affluent. The Adelmans claim a reputation of doing right by their customers, many of whom they have come to know on first-name basis.

“We nicknamed one of our customers ‘Forty Dollars’ because every time he comes in he wants $40. There’s another guy who brings a black and white TV with the knobs missing who has been pawning this for years. He comes in here every other month to pick it up, but no matter what he gets the same amount every time.”

Jerry’s Pawn Shop performs a service for the community by providing small, short-term, non-recourse, collateralized loans. The shop offers a viable alternative for people who don’t qualify for or can’t wait on a bank loan. For many, pawning is a way of life, providing the means to meet financial obligations.

“We’re in the game to make an honest living and help those who need our services,” Sheila said. “We tell people don’t borrow more than you can pay back.”

Pawn store gives back to community

“We do a lot more good for the society than we get recognized for,” David said. “We give a whole lot back to the community. In the last four to five months, our loans have increased 10-15 percent as a result of the supposed recession. About 50 customers a day come in to pawn. Some customers get short in the middle of the month and when the check comes a month later, they come back to pick up the merchandise. During hard times, they pay interest and roll it over for an extra month or more.”

Still, the Adelmans give their clients additional leeway. They hold their pawns for up to 90 days before they put it out for sale and for items valued at more than $100, they notify the client by mail. Even then, if an item is still in the showcase 120 days later, Jerry’s Pawn Shop will redeem it. And as long as the item remains in pawn, the client retains ownership.

“A lot of times they will call and we’ll work with them,” David said. “Even if they pay a small amount of the loan. We’d rather have less inventory and let them come and get the item.”

The approach has worked. About 75 percent of the stores’ merchandise is redeemed.