Future Hock

A pawn shop blooms in the condo boom

The clientele hasn't changed much over the years, although Andres notes that these days, there are more real estate brokers driving up in BMWs. ("I haven't had a Ferrari yet," he says.) Fridays and Mondays are his busiest days — Friday, because people pawn stuff for weekend cash, and Monday, when they come back to get their things out of hock.

Just then an older, thin black man with tired eyes and a blue knit hat uses a cane to steady himself as he pawns a gold ring. His first name is Carl, he says quietly. Andres agrees to give him $20 and the exchange is so fast that it's impossible to glimpse the bauble. Carl's emotion shows only in the downturn of his mouth. "I need to put gas in my car and eat," he says, adding that he's not bothered that the poor are being priced out of the neighborhood. "It's a sign of the times," he says. "What are you gonna do?"

Another customer walks in and pays $30 to get his guitar out of hock. His name is Charlie Murciano, and he's a slight, handsome man in his fifties. He wears a black, baggy T-shirt, khaki shorts, and flip-flops. He's tan and carries a miniature Doberman Pinscher. "Have you ever heard of the band Foxy?" he asks, then howls a few bars of a tune, "Ow! Ow! Owwwww! Get off!" The mini Doberman, who is named Chalupa, licks Charlie's chin. Charlie, apparently, played the flute and the keyboard in Foxy back in the Seventies when the band burned up Fort Lauderdale disco floors.

Charlie loves pawn shops. "There will always be pawn shops," he declares. "Even millionaires who live in South Beach come here to pawn."

Andres echoes this rosy point of view. The way he sees it, more condo dwellers means more customers. "The bank won't lend you ten or twenty grand on short notice," he says, shrugging. "Even the rich people sometimes run out of cash."

But Joy, the woman with the broken router, thinks Miami Pawn's days are numbered. "Rich people, they throw away stuff like this," she sweeps her hand over the glass case. She says she is a writer, but declines to say what kind of writing she does — whatever it is, it's not lucrative and she needs money fast. She rummages through a tattered floral bag and spreads 30 years of tiny electronic devices on the counter.

Only a black iPod gets a look. The guys offer $90.

"I have someone who will buy that iPod for $150," she says. She motions to a friend, a hard-looking woman in a pink dress who is standing nearby, transfixed by a portable DVD player. "Come on, Tina." The two, both wearing flat and dirty flip-flops, shuffle out and light cigarettes.

Four construction guys in white hardhats stare at the women as they smoke. It's another day at the crossroads of the Magic City.

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