Shop marks a crossroads of fortune and misfortune

Pawnbroker's regulars walking the financial edge

Maryland journal

September 25, 2006|By Sumathi Reddy | Sumathi Reddy,Sun reporter

The pink and green fluorescent letters beckon.

We Buy Gold. Jewelry. Watches. Loans. PAWN.

A man on this gritty stretch of Greenmount Avenue in Waverly lingers, gazing at the jumble of objects. Most are used. But one man's misfortune is another's fortune.

So it goes at Greenmount Loan and Jewelry Co., and so they come, through the doors and into the arms of one Gordy Lifson, proprietor of the shop for some 19 years.

Not many pawnshops come with a dose of tender loving care. But here is Lifson, a bespectacled man with a poof of gray and white hair who looks more like he belongs in a library than a pawnshop.

The 54-year-old Cockeysville man wears a pistol for protection ("It's a deterrent," he insists), as does his 24-year-old son, Aaron, and other workers who buzz in the customers through a locked door.

Dr. Phil is on a bank of televisions, and hip-hop thumps from a stereo as the employees usher in customers - mostly regulars - who come in as if they're at a regular watering hole or diner. A boy turns up the music on the stereo. A little girl is dancing.

"You've got so much jewelry in here," the girl coos.

"That's what we do," says an employee.

"Around 5 p.m. a guy will come in on his way home from Charles Village Pub, and he'll say, `Hey, Gordy,' and I'll say, `Hey, CVP,'" short for Charles Village Pub. "And he'll buy a bunch of DVDs," says Lifson. "He comes every day."

"We dub ourselves the friendly pawnshop," he adds.

Between the stereos and antennas and televisions and studio mixers are drills and a Jon Secada CD, video games and a keyboard, and a turquoise Yamaha guitar, yours for just $99.

But perhaps most alluring is the jewelry, all authentic gold or platinum, the glimmer of diamonds winking mischievously. Some of the jewelry is new, but the majority of it is forfeited, the remains of paycheck-to-paycheck existence when the last paycheck sadly never came in.

For most, pawning is a quick fix for cash, a way that a beaming man like Mike Smith, 24, can get gas to fill his car. The 24-year-old, who works in a furniture shop, is here pawning his fiancee's ring. No, it's not her engagement ring. Just a gold ring. "It was her idea," he says apologetically.

"Just need some gas money to hold me over," he adds. "I'm a regular here. Here every two weeks."

He'll be back before 30 days to redeem the ring, paying an extra $5 to bail it out (He got just $10 for it). "You pay a price for anything," he says with a shrug. "You do what you gotta do."

In comes a man from Delaware who's doing construction work on a bridge, here to retrieve a drill that he pawned for $30. "I didn't have enough gas to get home," he says, paying $37 to retrieve the drill.

And Anthony Jones is getting back a gold ring and necklace with a crucifix that he pawned last month to pay his gas and electric bill. "I feel very comfortable here," says Jones, 39, of Waverly, who works at a catering company. "I like the people. They're pretty polite."

Just about anything "of value" is sold or pawned here, says Lifson. And value is about as flexible as salt-water taffy at a pawnshop. Radar detectors, tools, musical instruments - bring it on. A gold bridge or tooth?

"Not a front, but if it's real gold, yeah, sure," says Lifson. "We get just about everything."

Loans range from $5 up to $10,000 (that was for a Cartier bracelet, diamond ring and a Rolex Presidential watch). Customers return for about 80 percent of the merchandise pawned. The remaining 20 percent ends up on display for sale.

White, black, young, old. Students, drunks, kids and a man who smells like he's smoked a little something. It's an odd assortment that shuffles in and out.

"I don't do that pawning," says one guy, perusing the jewelry section.

Some are embarrassed about pawning, but for the most part shame doesn't linger. Really, this is about paying your bills when you don't have the fortune of a checking account or credit, explains one frequent patron. It's a way of life for others.

Tasha Johnson, 28, has four kids to feed. So here she is, pawning her husband's wedding ring. "I'm here all the time for one thing or another," says the Waverly resident matter-of-factly. "I need money for food, financial bills. I get paid next week."

She says she's never had to forfeit anything but still she can't help but be a little scared each time she turns something over, especially if it's her wedding ring or her husband's. "But I gotta make ends meet," she says. "Better to do this than something else. Better than being hungry or needing something. And I can always replace this."

Johnson, like most here, trusts that Lifson will keep her stuff.

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