Profile Response: Tom Etheridge, Manager of Auto Pawn, Fresno, CA

HWWLT Logo on yellow“Pawn shops are the second oldest business in the world; you know the first.” Tom Etheridge, a twenty-year veteran of the pawn world, retold the legend that Queen Isabelle pawned her jewelry to finance Christopher Columbus’ voyage to America. “People have pawned things forever.”

Like every other business, Pawnshops have become more complex, and more regulated, over time. Tom outlined the basics:

IMG_4469Pawnshops use the Blue Book, which is now on line rather than an actual book, to determine the value of an item. They will lend between ten and thirty percent of the Blue Book value. Auto Pawn makes up to a hundred loans a day. Owners have four months to retrieve their item, for the amount they borrowed plus interest and storage. If they fail to do so, Auto Pawn owns it. “Every item we accept is reported to the police, who check to see if it’s stolen. The interest rates are determined by the State.” The rates are higher than a bank can charge. “Let’s say you bring in a $500 bicycle. I give you $50 for it. In four months, you’d have to pay maybe $75 to get it back. That’s because it’s a big item that requires storage. It would be less if I gave you $50 for jewelry.”

IMG_4468For years, jewelry was the mainstay of the pawn business. “Gold buying has killed us. I used to get fifty or sixty pieces of jewelry a day. Now I might get six. The credit and check cashing stores all buy gold, at higher prices than we can offer.”

I asked Tom how they decided what to accept. “We don’t trade in guns anymore, the regulations and paperwork got too difficult to bother. We don’t take clothes, except for motorcycle stuff. We don’t take many cellphones these days either. Now that everything’s connected to the cloud, the phone can be disabled and it’s useless to us. People will argue their stuff is worth more, but we offer what we offer. There are about a dozen other pawn shops in Fresno.”

IMG_4466Tom’s staff asks people if the items they’re pawning belong to them. “If they say yes, we are in the clear. If they say no and we take it anyway, we are accessories.” Sometimes Tom won’t take an item regardless what the supposed owner says. “If some guy comes here with a cell phone and he can’t use it, we know it’s not his. If the police discover that something’s been stolen, they confiscate it and we are out our money.”

The store is full of merchandise: rings, musical instruments, electronics, leather jackets. Next-door is agarage where they have lawnmowers, bikes, and cars. “We keep airplanes out at an airstrip.” I am amazed that people pawn airplanes. “People pawn all sorts of stuff. I’ve done loans of over $50,000. We serve every clientele here, from homeless to judges. This is a cash business, and sometimes people want money that cannot be traced. We report everything we are required to report, but we don’t ask what people do with the money we give them.”

IMG_4467Is the stuff on display on hold for their owners? “Everything you see here is for sale. We own it.” Items within their four-month loan period are stored in back. “Between 60% and 80% of people retrieve their items.” I looked at the shelves and shelves of DVD players and wondered how long they hold on to stuff for sale. “We never get rid of anything. We might lower the price, but we never give it away. I sold an Atari for $3200. Probably gave a guy five bucks for it years ago. In the meantime it became a collector’s item.”

How will we live tomorrow?

IMG_4465“I probably won’t be here. The earth is going to be a sad place. We have to value life and authority. Look at the college shootings. Young people have no respect for life. A lot of older folks don’t either.”


About paulefallon

Greetings reader. I am a writer, architect, cyclist and father from Cambridge, MA. My primary blog, is an archive of all my published writing. The title refers to a sequence of three yoga positions that increase focus and build strength by shifting the body’s center of gravity. The objective is balance without stability. My writing addresses opposing tension in our world, and my attempt to find balance through understanding that opposition. During 2015-2106 I am cycling through all 48 mainland United States and asking the question "How will we live tomorrow?" That journey is chronicled in a dedicated blog,, that includes personal writing related to my adventure as well as others' responses to my question. Thank you for visiting.
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