UPDATE: After opening strong Tuesday night with its Season 4 premiere – ratings averaged 2.1 million viewers – “Hardcore Pawn” has been renewed for a fifth season. TruTV announced it has ordered 13 more episodes, set to begin later this year.
Need a firsthand read of the U.S. economy? Ask your local pawn broker.
“We are basically barometers of the economic condition — commodity trader at a street level,” says Seth Gold, a star of TruTV’s “Hardcore Pawn.” ”And believe it or not, we see an upswing.”
Gold has been working the trenches at American Jewelry and Loan — in the heart of Detroit’s rough and tumble 8 Mile — for almost a decade. It’s a family business started by his father Les in the early 1970s that has become a last resort for many of the city’s homeless, unemployed and down-on-their-luck.
“We have about 40,000 items in our warehouse,” Les tells xfinityTV. ”That means we have 40,000 stories.”
We’ll get to see more of them beginning Tuesday night when “Hardcore Pawn” returns for a fourth season.
“You are going to see a lot more of the customer issues versus the family issues,” Les revealed when we checked in with the shop last week. ”Hopefully Seth and Ashley (his sister, who abruptly quit the family business at the end of last season) will start kissing each other on the cheek again when they come to work. But the real issue is now the customer and how we can deal with them – either the good or the bad.”
The clientele seems pretty rough. How many times have you been shot at?
Les Gold: When I worked at Sam’s Loan, we had a hold up. That was in 1971 and fortunately, since that day, never.
But every episode is full of confrontation…
Seth Gold: The bottom line is we consider what we do a job. Ultimately, when it comes down to the end of the day, we try to provide a service to everybody who comes through the door. Now given their financial situations, they are often not very pleased. And when we have to tell the person, “I am sorry, we can’t help you,” there is really no other place to go. We take the brunt of a lot of anger and that can sometimes turn into all-out conflict. But there is not a day we are worried about our lives or the lives of our customers or employees. Watching it, it seems like a lot of danger. But living it and experiencing it is something completely different.
LG: We need to keep control. And as long as we keep control, making sure that the staff, my family and the customers are all safe, that is the priority. We make sure we handle each and every situation professionally and to the best of our ability.
So is business slowing down for you, since things are getting better?
SG: No, because on the flip side, no matter how much money you have, people are always looking for a deal. So now that pawn shops are more mainstream and it is cool to go to them, we are seeing a lot more traffic. So we will take it both ways. The economy is still not back to 100%. People still need to buy gifts for birthdays… They are coming here to get a deal.
In this week’s season premiere, a woman pawns her limited edition Lee Iacocca Ford Mustang. Is that the biggest ticket item you have ever bought?
LG: One of the biggest.
You also acquire a Detroit Pistons championship ring.
LG: That became part of our personal collection. We are big into the city of Detroit, whether it be a sports team, the city… We love the city and we want to be a part of it. This is something not many people have and it is pretty exciting to us to own a piece of Detroit.
What else is in that collection?
SG: I am a big University of Michigan fan. I have a couple of Rose Bowl rings, championship rings. So any kind of sports memorabilia that has to do with U of M goes in my personal collection.
Some would say that you are the benefactors of other people’s misfortunes.
LG: The issue is we still have to make a profit. We don’t want to be profitable on people’s hard luck, but you do have to understand that we are running a business with 45 employees and 45 families that we need to take care of.
SG: It is real easy to sit on your high porch and look down. But unless you are in the trenches and you understand pawn, no matter what I say, you are not going to understand. Ultimately, we want to show people that our customers have no place else to go. So if I turn them down, that is when real problems happen.
What happens when people recognize you around town?
LG: One of the things I have prided myself on through the years is to keep a high image of myself. We have been really helping the city of Detroit. We have been helping the underprivileged people who live in the city. We donate a lot of things to Brother & Sisters and anything that involves the City of Detroit. So I know that every day when we are out in public, we can hold our heads up high because we help the people of Detroit.
What else can we expect from the new season?
SG: As far as storylines go, every customer that walks in is a potential whole episode. So the production company picks up on that and on our interactions with them. If you enjoyed Season 3, Season 4 will be ten times better.
Les, this seems like a really stressful job. How long can you keep doing this?
LG: When we are in the 40th season and you see them put me in the ground, that will definitely be the last day. Up until that day, I love what I do. I absolutely enjoy each and every day coming to work and being a pawn broker. I can not imagine doing anything else. That is what keeps me going.