In August 2009, Antique Trader’s Karen Knapstein spoke with Rick Harrison, co-owner of the Gold & Silver Pawn Shop in Las Vegas and co-star of History’s Pawn Stars.
Antique Trader: What was your reaction when you learned the History Channel was looking to produce a reality show about a pawn shop and that your shop fit the bill?
Rick Harrison: I was pretty shocked. I really didn’t go through the History Channel, it was actually a production company that called me up and wanted to know if I’d be interested, and I said yes and they did a little sizzle reel and they showed it to the History Channel and the History Channel just loved it. Actually, they showed them the sizzle reel and they ordered the pilot three days later.
Antique Trader: Really!
Rick Harrison: Yeah, and then six weeks later when they were all done with the pilot, they showed them the pilot, and like two days later they said yeah you got the series.
Antique Trader: Wow. That’s a fast decision.
Rick Harrison: Yeah. It’s been a really fast ride.
Antique Trader: Did you have any input on how the pawn shop business was going to be portrayed in the show?
Rick Harrison: I explained to them that I wanted it to be portrayed in a good light, or definitely there would be no second season.
Antique Trader: You were playing Antiques Roadshow before Antiques Roadshow was cool. Are you still surprised at what comes through the door?
Rick Harrison: Yeah, it’s something different every day. Most of the pawn shops in Las Vegas are corporate owned — they’re owned by big corporations like EZ Pawn (I think Easy Cash is the corporate name), they own like 30 pawn shops in Las Vegas, and Cash America owns like 30. There’s only like five or six independent pawn shops left … That’s why I get all the antiques [that] I get … it’s because places like that don’t take them.
Antique Trader: That was what our next question was going to be, that not all pawn shops will touch fine art, antiques or the military items that you do. Have you always accepted art and antiques because you could find buyers or you buy and sell them because you like them?
Rick Harrison: Both. You know how it is, I don’t know if you’ve ever owned an antique shop yourself or anything, but you know how you want to keep the stuff but just can’t …
Antique Trader: Exactly! I have to ask: Did that $300 1849 revolver turn out to be a $300 paperweight?
Rick Harrison: It was worth 300 bucks; that was it.
Antique Trader: No business, whether it’s a pawn shop or an antique shop or a pawn shop can give a customer the retail value of their items. What’s the easiest way you get that point across to people who come into your shop to sell something?
Rick Harrison: I’ve always found that the easiest way is just to explain the entire process to them … you know, just explain to them what you saw in the book was — most likely they always go all the way to the right hand side column, you know, when it’s in perfect condition, when they look up a price — and I explain to them it’s rarely that one all the way to the right hand side; it’s usually towards the beginning or the middle … and I explain to them if you want these prices sell it to the book. If they’re talking about that’s what it’s worth.
I just explain to them, listen, I have an overhead here. I have to resell this. And the price you’re looking at here is probably at an auction and what you could do is you could bring it to an auction house, and they’re probably going to charge you like 30 percent and it’s going to be six or seven months before you get your money.
Antique Trader: What was business like before the show [Pawn Stars] aired compared to the business after the show’s debut? Have you seen an upswing?
Rick Harrison: Oh yes. We’ve seen a definite upswing. The customers that I’m getting in that are fans of the show are not spending as much money as my normal customers … but they are spending some money. And I’m definitely buying a lot of stuff. I’m getting a lot of weird stuff in the store.
Antique Trader: Weird stuff like what?
Rick Harrison: I pawned a buffalo head a few days ago. … But I am getting some really good stuff too. I got some really nice scrimshaw pieces the other day, but he didn’t sell them, he just pawned them. And a bunch of other odd things like that. I’m getting a lot of good stuff in. Actually, since the show’s aired … my cash going out has increased a lot more than cash coming in.
Antique Trader: Have you seen a change in the top selling merchandise lines? Like is there more coins and jewelry …
Rick Harrison: I think it’s stayed the same.
Antique Trader: Have you seen a shift in the amount of pawns versus the number of sales?
Rick Harrison: I’m doing a lot more of both. I think my buys gone up a lot more than pawns.
Antique Trader: Are people coming back to claim their pawns?
Rick Harrison: It’s getting better. Back around the beginning of the year my redemption rate was down to less than 70 percent, and it’s back up over 80 now. During the boom, like in 2006, it was running at 90 percent.
Antique Trader: Your redemption rate? That would be …
Rick Harrison: People who pick up — when they pawn something — when they pick it back up. … It’s running right around 80 percent right now.
Antique Trader: I read on the site that you’re an expert at spotting a fake. And at spotting something that’s stolen. How do you spot something that’s stolen?
Rick Harrison: Oh, you just gotta ask them questions. … If it just doesn’t sound right, I just don’t take it. It’s the worst thing in the world for business. I don’t want to end up on the news taking anything like that … it causes trouble. It makes me be perceived in a bad light and I just don’t want that. [Watch the Pawn Stars take on stolen goods here.]
Antique Trader: Absolutely. Especially not now! It would be all blown up. How did you develop such a diverse circle of experts over the years? You said that if you don’t know about something, you know somebody who does. Has it just been …
Rick Harrison: Over the years, anybody that comes in the pawn shop … and you know, I’m a blabbermouth — I always gotta talk to everybody. And if I find out, you know, that they know a lot about something, I keep their card and I put it in my Rolodex.
Antique Trader: OK. That’s fabulous. Did you encourage Corey to join the family business or did he come to you with a genuine interest in learning the trade?
Rick Harrison: Yeah, he came to me wanting to work here. I tried to discourage him.
Antique Trader: I was going to as if you had reservations …
Rick Harrison: The reservations really weren’t from me; it’s really tough working in a family business. You know. And I’m a small company, so there’s really no upward room for him. You know but in the long run I think it’s gonna work out now.
Antique Trader: Other reality shows have turned their casts into celebrities. Are you and your family ready for that?
Rick Harrison: Um, it has been a little overwhelming. History Channel was in New York last week and people were stopping me on the street asking me for my autograph.
Antique Trader: Oh yeah? New experience?
Rick Harrison: Yeah, it’s a little much. But I think I’ll stay grounded. My wife is definitely not going to be on the show. She’s already told me that and I told them that.
Antique Trader: Well, that’s good. Lay the ground rules early.
Rick Harrison: Yeah.
Antique Trader: In one episode, you gave Corey a hard time for buying a Cris Craft … and then in another, your dad came down on you for buying the Lincoln. Both ended up being solid deals.
Rick Harrison: He complains about everything I do [laughs]. … We ended up making money off ‘em. Not as much as we’d like sometimes. But, we rarely lose money on something.
Antique Trader: Couldn’t stay in business for very long if you did, huh?
Rick Harrison: That’s right.
Antique Trader: How do the three of you keep from getting carried away when something really exciting comes through the door or on the lot?
Rick Harrison: When something comes in really exciting, maybe it’s exciting, but as far as I’m concerned, it’s still a business and we have to make money. I’m not going to get carried away and spend too much money on something.
Antique Trader: Keep the head in the deal, right?
Rick Harrison: Yes.
Antique Trader: What efforts do you take to make sure your shop is appealing for both the buyers and sellers?
Rick Harrison: I think it’s just like any business: Keep it really clean. No one likes to walk into a dirty store. Period. All my employees have really good customer service skills. In my store, where we usually pawn stuff, is separated from where we sell stuff. … Because when someone’s selling something, it’s going to take me a while to evaluate it and write up all the paperwork. That’s why there’s a separate department where we pawn and buy stuff from our showroom floor.
On the show, there, they like to show me in different spots in the store buying and selling stuff, but we generally have one location where we buy everything.
Antique Trader: That’s kind of neat that we get the inside view of what’s going on.
Rick Harrison: Uh huh.
Antique Trader: Finally, we have to ask, because we know America really wants to know: What’s the deal with Chumlee? Is that all an act? He’s gotta have some skills.
Rick Harrison: He’s a good kid, you know. He works behind the counter. I’ve known him since I was 12 years old. … He really wasn’t raised that well, that’s the best way to put it. Every year there’s a plate at my house at Thanksgiving [for him], and [at] Christmas my wife puts out a stocking for him. He’s a really good kid.
Antique Trader: You’ve adopted him.
Rick Harrison: I’ve sort of semi-adopted him. He gets my wife a Mother’s Day card every year.
Antique Trader: Oh now nice! Now we got a glimpse of a sweet Chumlee, huh?
Rick Harrison: Yeah, he’s a good kid. He’s a really nice kid and he’s been working for me for, what, 5-6 years.
Antique Trader: Awesome. … It’s been great talking with you.
Rick Harrison: Alright. Thanks a lot.
You can watch Pawn Stars on the History Channel at 9 p.m. CST on Monday nights. The 2010 Pawn Stars season premiere is Monday, June 7, at 10/9c.