Gold Rush

April Anderson slouched over a nearly empty case of gold and silver jewelry at Athens Pawn Shop on Hawthorne Road.  She looked out the window waiting for customers.

“We just can’t buy the same stuff as we used to since the recession,” said Anderson, an employ of Athens Pawn Shop, “and with new ordinances to change the waiting period to sell second-hand metals from 10 to 30 days, the cases could get emptier.”

On March 18, 2010 the Athens-Clarke County Commissioners will vote on an Amendment that affects how pawn shops in the Athens area will be able to sell precious metal and gems, a decision held for further review by the Commissioners earlier this month on March 2.  

The Athens Police Department submitted an agenda report to the county commissioner’s to amend the Athens-Clarke County Code of Ordinances related to Pawnbroker and Itinerant Dealer on February 4, 2010.  According to the report, “Where-as Athens-Clarke County finds that while pawnbrokers and dealers in precious metals and gems provide a valuable service to citizens, they may also inadvertently provide opportunity for criminals to sell stolen property which can be easily received and quickly disposed of.”  Their decision: to create an electronic database with photographs of all customers and to increase the time gems and metal must be held before selling.

But many of the pawnbrokers in Athens had not had enough time to get their questions answered by the initial meeting.

 “It is only logical that we will have lots of questions since most of us have only heard of this yesterday,” said Lauri Reeves, co-owner of Athens Pawn shop, at the first Commissioner’s meeting. “I feel personally offended to the first where-as statement [about pawn dealers inadvertently providing opportunities for criminals].  We are highly regulated by Clark County, and we have always abided by those rules.”

 In the history section of the agenda report submitted by the police, pawnbrokers are required to compile written pawn tickets for the police department each week under the current ordinances.  A police detective must travel to each of the pawnbrokers and collects these tickets.  In addition, the present ordinance only requires pawnbrokers to hold pawned good for 10 days.  

“The number of run-ins with the police can be counted on one hand,” says April Anderson as she looks over the jewelry and coins in the cases of Athens Pawn Shop. “Most of our clientele is single moms just trying to make it to the next paycheck.  It’s not like a criminal is going to come in here and give us their photo ID which we will then give to the police.  It would be too easy to track them down.  Criminals are going to sell big items on the streets so they can’t be traced.”

This argument seems to be one of the main rallying points for the pawn brokers.  At the meeting on March 2, as they got up to talk, they were bewildered by the accusation that they were middlemen to criminals and, like Dale Dunkin of Dunkin’s Jewelry, feel there isn’t attention to how the pawn business works.

“In the last 60 days, gold has changed 30 percent and silver has changed 60 percent,” said Dunkin. “By extending the period to 30 days, we would be gambling with our investment because the price of gold could change 20 percent, which historically it has.”

This means the customer would suffer, says April Anderson. 

 “We would have to undercut the customer because we wouldn’t know what the gold standard would be in 30 days,” says Anderson. “Someone who just needed to sell an old ring to buy diapers and formula for their baby would only be able to buy the formula with the money we gave them.”

These changes in the business would also change the dynamics between pawn shops in Athens and surrounding communities.  Because the amendment would only affect Clarke County, surrounding counties would have an advantage.  Doug Lowry, District 1 Commissioner, noted this while going over the details with Mike Hamby, District 10 Commissioner.

 “We read how these local pawn shops would be affected if Madison and our neighbors didn’t have it,” said Lowry. “Is there any understanding on working this ordinance on other counties?”

“All pawn dealers are regulated through the state community,” said Hamby. “So all we are doing is trying to track what the state wants.  State law says they must hold it for seven days now.  Are there other communities around us without this new ordinance of 30 days? I suspect that is true.”

“Is there any effort so that people couldn’t steal something here and then drive across the county line and sell it in Madison?” Lowry asked.

“As far as precious metals are concerned, I am not aware of a regional effort to try to make a network for the issue,” Hamby answered.

From April’s perspective, the only way this can work is if everyone has to do it. 

“We can’t be put to a disadvantage to our neighbors,” said Anderson.

Since the March 2 meeting, the police department held a Q & A for the pawn brokers on March 16 at the station.  There the business men and woman discussed many of the issues presented at the first meeting, but many of the issues are still not completely resolved.

“I don’t know what will happen,” said April Anderson. “I just don’t know how the business will be able to make it if this passes.”

Pawnbrokers will attend the Commissioner’s meeting on Thurs. March 18.  There they will find out the fate of their businesses, and April will find out if her cases will have less gold and silver than there already is.

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