History’s ‘Pawn Stars’ Hits Gold (& Silver)

by | March 29, 2010 at 7:00 AM | Interviews, TV News

Rick Harrison on Pawn Stars (The History Channel)

Rick Harrison on Pawn Stars (The History Channel)

Growing up in glittering Las Vegas, Rick Harrison saw plenty of celebrities come through town. But until he began headlining The History Channel’s ‘Pawn Stars,’ he never dreamed he’d become one himself.

When reached by Fancast last week, Rick had just finished posing for a magazine photo shoot and was now ready for a series of interviews. Still, the tough-looking owner of Gold & Silver Pawn Shop hasn’t gone Hollywood even if the show about his thriving business attracted 5.8 million viewers on March 8 – a record for The History Channel.

“Two weeks ago, I got invited to a Bon Jovi concert, second row seats,” he says. “But I took my son camping. I grew up in Vegas my whole life, I never asked anyone for autographs. It’s never been a big deal. It’s amazing that people come up to me and say, ‘I love you.’ I’m really just a nerdy guy who reads all the time.”

Rick is the boss at the shop which he started with his father in 1988 touting it as the only family-owned pawn shop in Vegas. He was just 13 then and dropped out of high school in the 10th grade because he was already making $2,000 a week. He got his well-known nickname of “The Spotter” because of his ability to spot anything fake or stolen.

Among the items that have been brought in are an extremely unique 1920s ukulele banjo,  a photo album of famed union organizer Jimmy Hoffa, a rare Manhattan Arms revolver from the mid 1800′s, a handmade cuckoo clock from the 1800′s, and a 240-year-old lottery ticket signed by founding father George Washington.

The series not only spotlights offbeat items customers bring in, it also follows the interpersonal conflicts between the shop’s three-generation staff comprised of Rick, his father Richard, Rick’s son Corey and Corey’s friend Austin “Chumlee” Russell.

The show’s popularity has already earned a renewal for a third season and boosted the pawn shop’s business dramatically from an average of 70 customers a day to more than 1,000. There is now a doorman outside to control the crowds and Rick confesses that the fire marshal has had to be called a few times when too many people showed up at once.

Things will get a lot less crowded once a $400,000 expansion already underway is complete. It will increase the store’s space by more than 60 percent.

“We never thought it was going to be this big,” Rick says. “For years, I’d been approached about reality shows but it never came to fruition then The History Channel came along and every week the show has become more and more popular.”

Rick talked about his  journey from pawn shop owner to TV ratings powerhouse.

How has day-to-day life changed for you at the store with the success of the show?
I have loads of people lining up every day with weird things. I get a lot more cool stuff in the store but I have to wade through it. People walk in with piles of Life magazines from the 1950s or a newspaper from the 1930s.  Some of it is worthless. I’ve also had to hire 21 more people since the show started so I have 38 employees now. I’m also busier because I have to do a TV show and run a business. All in all, it’s pretty damned fun.

Why do you think the show has become so popular?
It’s a History show with a family dynamic going on. It’s got a little bit of everything and is not the same from week to week. I get weird stuff every single day.

How did Gold & Silver become the go-to place for all of these oddball items?
What happened was there were over 500 pawn shops in Vegas but big corporations have bought everyone. They have a business model and it works for them. If an item is weird and it’s not in their computer data base, they send it here. So I have pawn shops sending strange, eclectic things.

How have the tough economic times affected business?
When times are bad, I’m taking in more stuff but it’s more difficult to sell it. It’s a very weird business. The majority of the stuff I buy, I take a gamble on it. All those things I buy, I have to sell.

There are still folks out there not familiar with the show. Why should they check you out?
It’s a history lesson and you’ll learn something and it’s something the whole family can watch and one of the only shows that the entire family will agree on to watch. They will also fall in love with Chumlee.

A show set at a pawn shop seems like such an unlikely place for a TV show. They don’t exactly have the best image from what I see in movies and episodes of various television series.
Pawn shops have just been really vilified by Hollywood. Pawn shops are not seedy places in general.  It was the number one form on consumer credit until the 1950s.

THE SEASON PREMIERE OF PAWN STARS AIRS MONDAY, MARCH 29 AT 10 PM ON HISTORY