SCHOFIELD (WAOW) -- Many people once considered the pawn shop a business to avoid.
It carried the stigma of shady characters and seedy deals. But that's not as much the case anymore. Pawning has become a multi-million dollar industry in the Wausau area, and pawn shops are even glamorized on TV.
We visited Pawn America in Schofield to take a look at the wild world of pawn. Our tour guide was Kip Kreager, assistant head coach at the pawn shop.
"I know probably fifty percent of our customers by a first name basis," Kreager told us as we started looking around the store.
One of those customers is John Duehlmeier.
"I usually come here for extra cash," he said. "I usually come here probably about five, six times a month."
Pawn America buys, sells, and loans—a recycling center of all things second hand.
"Second hand is a lot cheaper than buying it firsthand," said Kreager.
The pawn shop gets a lot of unique items. Kreager showed us various swords and knives, exotic rings, and a James Bond 007 limited edition watch.
He also showed us a lot of video games.
"Lots of people are real crazy about video games in this area for whatever reason," said Kreager.
A pawn shop isn't your average store. Customers can buy an item on the sales floor. They can also sell something and get instant cash. Or, they can pawn it—getting money now and paying it back later, plus interest.
"Basically they bring in, let's say, a ring," said Kreager. "We appraise it for them. If it's like a 200 dollar ring, they're going to pay about 20 percent interest over the course of a month to get that ring back, so about 240 dollars to get it back""
But isn't 20 percent interest a lot? Kreager says, not as high as other places.
"If you compare to like a check cashing place or anything like that, our interest rates are a lot lower than that," said Kreager.
We found John Duehlmeier pawning some DVDs. For about a buck each, he left the store with $30.
"I'm going to get stuff for my daughter cause she's getting an operation on her ears," said Duehlmeier. He says he's come to the shop for several years, mostly pawning items for cash. He says, with one exception, he gets his items back every time.
"It helps out people that are tight on money, especially right now with the economy's going," said Duehlmeier.
But others don't leave the pawn shop so lucky.
"I brought in two TVs, two cameras, and a boombox, hoping to get about $20 or $25 for it," said Daniel Deland.
But he ended up getting nothing.
"I don't have the remotes for the TVs, one of the cameras is too old, and the CD boombox was not working," he said.
Pawn shop workers are careful before they take anything, and when they do, they have to make sure they can re-sell it. And make no mistake--they're in it for a profit.
"What we try to do is offer more than enough for the customer because it is used goods, and then turn around and make it about a 30-40 percent profit for us," said Kreager.
Pawn America is a busy place. Kreager says in January alone, the shop saw almost $200,000 worth of merchandise coming into the store. And over a year-long period, Kreager says that number totals in the millions of dollars.
What sparked the interest in pawn shops? Perhaps TV shows. "Pawn Stars" on the History Channel reveals a glamorous, exciting side of pawn shops. So do other shows.
"Since Pawn Stars, since Hard Core Pawn, and I think they have that new southern pawn or whatever like that, all those generate the people's interest," said Kreager.
But pawn shops have had their struggles. According to the National Pawnbrokers Association 2010 Trend Survey, sales at many pawn shops dropped as the economy tanked, and fewer people returned to re-claim their loaned items.
But Kreager says now—at Pawn America—business is robust.
"You'll find a lot of unique stuff that is one of a kind, and you'll want to pick it up for yourself," he said.
Pawn shops also have to deal with the reality that they sometimes attract criminals. For example, Pawn America reports everything they get to police. Also, every item sits in the back for 30 days before it can be sold. That gives police time to investigate any potential stolen items. The National Pawnbrokers Association says these measures help keep customers safe and contributes to a better place to do business.
Pawn shops will continue to attract people needing quick cash, and those looking for something neat. And that's the allure. Because you never know what you'll find in the wild world of pawn.