Who knew that a pawn broker could be so glamorous? We chat with Lauren Kaminsky, the 22-year-old Vice President and head of sales at the EZ Pawn Corporation, a family-run business based in New York. Her latest project piqued our interest: Curator at Manhattan's Beauty & Essex lounge/restaurant, one of our favorite hangouts. The drinking-and-dining area is actually hidden behind a pawn shop...and that's where Lauren comes in. Here's a glimpse into her day-to-day life.
So, you are not what comes to mind when we think of a pawn broker. Why are you in the biz?
I just started! In fact, I'm just about a year in. This will sound funny because it's a family business...but I shied away from going into the business! But then I worked with my dad for the summer and discovered I loved it. There were facets to the job [of working in the pawn industry] that I never realized. Like how to choose jewelry, watching interest rates change and then the whole treasure-hunting aspect.
Where does your inventory come from?
A little bit of a mix of people pawning and then me going out into the world and finding amazing pieces at dealers, estate sales, vintage places and other pawns.
Here's a little bit about the business-side of being a pawn broker: To come to a pawn broker as a client is to get a loan based on a collateral security. We keep in touch and they generally come back for it. In fact, we have 90% redemption rate from our pawn clients. Then, there's the 10% of the time that they can't pick up the item or can't pay. The loan defaults and then a decision is made on whether to resell the item. Also, some people come to a pawn shop specifically to sell an item.
You mention going out in the world to find a good chunk of your inventory on the secondhand market in a bunch of places. Where's the best place to find treasure?
Going to the pawns, because you really get down and dirty with jewelry. And I mean down and dirty: I'm literally digging through packages that haven't been opened in months. My hands get incredibly filthy from this! Then, I decide whether the piece should be melted down or if it is a good candidate for resale. It's a complete treasure-hunt in every sense.
How do you know whether to resell a piece or to melt it down?
It's all about how it looks. I have an eye for something that looks different. I often also take a look at a piece with diamond appraisers to determine value.
What's a top seller in your shop?
Top trend is definitely rings. Also, necklaces that have "standout" appeal. We had a great piece that I called the "Cleopatra necklace." It was a collar-style necklace with this amazing Egyptian geometry motif.
How do you price your items?
It comes from a mixture of style and the current price for gold and diamonds. I really put the emphasis on pricing items according to the gold and diamond prices, though...and often, the main criticism is that my prices in the store are too low [for how stylish the pieces are].
So going back to how often you spend time finding great pieces for the shop: What have you learned about shopping and finding that diamond (literal or figurative) in the rough?
Really, it's to trust your eye-if you pick it up, it means it caught your eye and it spoke to you in some way. The next step is to know about diamonds (read about the market beforehand for the typical price, diamond prices are set). Then, weigh the gold, ask if it's 14k or 22k. You should also read up on the price of gold, which fluctuates.
How can you tell fake gold from real gold?
Being part of the pawnbroking industry, we see a lot. Pawn shops will do an acid test to ensure that a piece is real gold. But one thing you should keep in mind is that gold never turns color from wear-and-tear. It can oxidize, but it definitely should not be green or black.
Also, you can always come in to a pawn broker and ask for appraisals. At EZ Pawn Corp., it's a transparent process where we do everything right in front of the customer.
What should someone know before they go to a pawn broker for their items?
You need to be over 18 and have a state ID. That's about it. Shop around to a few places and try your best. If it's gold, check the price of gold that day.
So, a fancier topic: What is it like to work in a hot spot like Beauty & Essex?
Every night brings a different person. And it's also interesting because the entrance is through my selling area, with the restaurant in back. It never gets old, people asking where the restaurant is, then slowly browsing through the shop and looking at my latest finds.
And, there's lots of celebs too...But what's more remarkable are the people who come in to shop. Once, a woman came in and was saying how she had a baby and wanted to give her baby a present: A play toy made completely out of gold. And then there's the lady whose friend had to talk her out of buying the most expensive piece in the shop: A $24,000 superman necklace.
Wow, a $24,000 Superman necklace? Is that the weirdest item that you've come across?
No, that has to be the handbag completely made out of 14k gold!
*Note: Beauty & Essex does not have a pawning license yet-it's bonded and insured. You can buy anything you'd like, but you can't sell your items there. You can, however, sell at one of the EZ Pawn Corporation shops in Manhattan.
Want more info on pawn shops and other resale options? Check out...
Cleaning Out the Closet With "Pawn Stars"
The Ultimate Estate Sale Guide
Secondhand Stories: The Weirdest Things Brought Into My Consignment Shop
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