Pawnshops

The thirtyish black man who stands outside the door of the Cash Dome purses his lips distractedly, idly rubbing the videocassette recorder he holds under one arm

Despite the best intentions of shopowners, stolen goods can still leak into pawnshops. If police do find stolen goods in a shop's inventory, the pawnshops suffer doubly. Not only must they surrender the merchandise, but they lose the money they have loaned.

According to Michelle Kay, administrative director of the Florida Pawnbroker's Association, pawnbroking groups have become increasingly interested in cooperating with law enforcement agencies. "Basically, we have started working with police and government all over the state, and this proves to them we are not trying to hide people who might try to sell stolen goods. We are actually helping them to catch these people."

Metro-Dade Police Detective Marlene Campbell, who works with the northside-station stolen-property unit and is personally responsible for monitoring six pawnshops, says that most brokers comply with the regulations. "When we find stolen goods, we don't assume it's the fault of the owner. They can't turn everything away, of course. They're running a business. But there are some that are problems, that you have to watch more closely, and every once in a while you see a shop shut down."

The long-standing image of disreputability may be starting to shift. Middle-class shoppers have begun to look upon pawnshops as local thrift stores; in Miami, pawnbrokers sell frequently to international customers. "I have people coming from Chile, Peru, Ecuador, and they are pawnshop fanatics," says Cash Dome's Chuck Gamarski. "They prefer buying used merchandise because it reduces the tax they have to pay when they bring the item home. And we do a lot of business that way. VCRs are very hot. Popular, I mean, not stolen."

Honest pawnbrokers, it seems, must be content to straddle the contradictions - neighborhood bank versus thrift shop, respectable business versus seedy back-door dealing - and weather the indignities of a bad reputation. "We get two kinds of reactions," says Gamarski. "One guy comes in recently to redeem his car. We had given him about $600. He's very thankful, actually curses the bank out, tells us, `If it wasn't for you guys, there was no way I could have gotten the money.' On the other hand, some people think we're the biggest scumbags in the world.

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