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When Pawn is King 

by DANIEL WALTERS & r & & r & & lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & L & lt;/span & ike many pawnshops, Millman Jewelers-E-Z Loan sells an eclectic mix of necessities and oddities, a mish-mash of knickknacks and bric-a-brac. Pool Cues. Guitars. Firearms. Videotapes ranging from Terminator 2 to Honey, We Shrunk Ourselves. Underneath a faded "United We Stand" poster, there's even a shiny collection of broadswords.

But Larry Clark isn't here to buy a Dragonheart video or thumb through the cassette tape collection. A few weeks ago, Clark put some rings up for collateral at Millman. He needed the extra money to fill up the gas tank on his Ford 460. Now he's at the store to pay interest on that loan, so he can buy the rings back someday.

"Gas is going to drive us all into the poor house," Clark's fianc & eacute;e says.

With gas prices perched atop $4 a gallon, people are turning to pawnshops for relief, hawking items just to fill up and get by. "Over the winter it was money for Avista," says Millman owner Annette Silver. "And now it's money for gas."

The three staples of the pawn business -- buying things from people in need of cash, giving quick 90-day loans, and selling merchandise at cheap prices -- can all occasionally benefit from a bit of economic queasiness. News outlets across the country report that while rumbles of recession may be hurting other businesses, they're helping the pawn industry. More people need speedy loans, and more people are willing to sell the broken pieces of jewelry they've had tucked away in their dresser drawer for quick cash.

And with many people beginning to tighten their belts, it helps to buy those belts as cheaply as possible. "They're more comfortable and happy to buy a secondhand item," Doug Karlson, owner of Axel's Pawn, says. "They typically save anything from 30 to 50 percent off of retail."

Silver says she's also noticed an increase in business. While her shop's clientele has always varied in socioeconomic status, she says there's been a slight uptick in strapped-for-cash middle-class customers.

As with all businesses, pawnshops are affected by the finicky ebb and flow of supply and demand, fad and obsolescence. Karlson says the CD market, once a major part of their business, has virtually died, just as the DVD market began to flourish. (At Millman Jewelers-E-Z Loan, however, Silver says cassettes and videotapes are some of the best selling items.)

Gold is another item gaining popularity. At Millman, Silver says she's seeing more people wanting to sell gold -- usually broken pieces of jewelry that can be melted down -- rather than just using it as loan collateral.

& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & K & lt;/span & arlson credits the influx of gold-wielding customers to TV advertising and the increase of gold prices. Local shops have taken advantage of the trend. "Turn your GOLD into CASH," blares a Pawn 1 billboard on Monroe.

"We see more gold and DVDs lately than anything else," Pawn 1 employee Alex Arnold says. And while gold prices have cooled off lately -- $925 an ounce, down from a peak of $1,002 in March -- Arnold says customers are still bringing in golden items at the same rapid clip. Those items include rings, bracelets and, occasionally, dental gold. "It's disgusting," he says.

Granted, not all pawnshops have seen a large spike in business. Ken Craudell at Double Eagle Pawn says his business is increasing, but at about the same incremental rate he sees most years. While customers at Double Eagle Pawn are saying they need loans for gas more often, Craudell says, they're simply citing a different reason for borrowing the same amount of money.

The reason why some pawnshops are seeing more business while others aren't is that Spokane has a lot of these shops -- around 25, Karlson says. Any phenomenon is bound to affect some, and not others.

At Millman, meanwhile, patrons continue to file in. Some browse through the DVD collection, killing time before catching the bus. One pawns a portable TV with a built DVD player for $30. Another haggles over $5 in price.

It may not seem like much, but at $4 a gallon for gas, five bucks counts.
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