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Mon, April 22

Pawning in the 21st century

PRESCOTT ‹ It's one of the oldest ways of doing business in America, but pawning has endured ­ and evolved ­ with the assistance of high-tech practices that few envisioned a generation ago.

Bob and Jennifer Ayers have owned the Pawn Palace, 301 N. Alarcon, for 12 years, and have clearly benefited from the modifications.

The couple got into the pawnshop business upon learning its ins and outs from a friend in Phoenix.

Bob, a former highway patrolman, specializes in firearms, while Jennifer has her niche with jewelry.

The couple regularly uses a computer with an Internet connection to look up on eBay

the common prices buyers offer for used goods, such as guitars, TVs

and DVD players.

When a customer walks into the Ayers' store and offers an item as collateral for a quick, same-day loan, Jennifer or Bob will peruse eBay or Orion's Blue Book guide to decide what price to offer the customer.

They also utilize a computer to prevent a customer who attempts to sell or pawn stolen goods.

"He has to give me his driver's license and all that information, and I put

that into my computer," Jennifer said. "Then (a business transaction form) comes up and we print it, and there's three copies ­ the customer gets a copy, we keep a copy and the (Prescott) police department gets a copy."

Prescott police keeps its copy of every one of the city's pawnshop transactions as part of a nationwide database to ensure that customers who want to sell or pawn are not thieves.

"We started our business with this system," said Jennifer Ayers. "Because of that, we get very little stolen property."

Bob and Jennifer Ayers buy a lot more items than they can sell, so the couple wholesales much of the merchandise it has. The shop keeps a separate computer at one of its sale counters where an employee puts many of the store's items up for sale on eBay.

Jim Tibbetts, owner of Yavapai Pawn, 330 S. Montezuma St., has a smaller

shop that mainly sells jewelry, tools

and firearms to customers of all walks

of life. He also sells paintball-gun supplies, in which his children have

an interest. They do the inventory and sales for Tibbetts in exchange for a cut of the profits.

Like the Ayers, Tibbetts keeps a watchful eye on security, but he oftentimes knows the customers with whom he deals.

"I have some real regular clientele

that come in looking for a bargain," Tibbetts said.

Tibbetts' business focuses more on the pawn, or making quick loans to customers, rather than the retail sales that larger shops tend to revolve around. Typically, a customer will bring Tibbetts his or her collateral, whether it's a piece of jewelry or a gun, and he loans the person money against it.

Both Yavapai Pawn and Pawn Palace offer 90-day secured loans, and within that three-month period the customer can return to pick up the item or make arrangements to extend the loan's term. When the term ends, the shop can sell the collateral and the customer has no obligation to the store.

"If they pawn it, it's because they want to keep it," Jennifer Ayers said. "Most of the time the items that you see here people just say, 'I've got something newer, bigger, better,' or 'I never use this item anymore, and I want to sell it.' And so they'll sell it to us outright."

Tibbetts, 43, said many customers simply do not want to go to the bank and ask for a loan or take out a cash advance on a credit card. Whether it's a young, struggling family, a wealthy business owner, or a contractor, the demographic of the pawnshop customer varies.

"At one time or another, everybody needs a little extra money," said Tibbetts, who's also owned his shop for the past 12 years. "This is a quick, easy way to get cash. A person's credit rating makes no difference. They just need collateral to borrow against."

Through the decades, pawnshops have, perhaps unfairly, gained a reputation for seedy business practices. Today, however, pawnshop owners work closely with law enforcement officials to weed out criminal activity.

"Once a person comes in and familiarizes themselves with a pawnshop and how it works, I think their perception changes and they seem to like it," Tibbetts said. "There's a misconception among a lot of people that think it's an outlet for stolen goods or something. That's the furthest from the truth."

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