'Times are gonna get pretty tough:' Pawn shops provide relief to some as pandemic disrupts economy

MILWAUKEE -- Pawn shops are one of many businesses asking the government for cash in the form of small business loans.

You may think they'd be getting more business right now but nationwide, pawnshop loans are actually down.

Nancy Emmerich

Nancy Emmerich is still waiting for her stimulus check. She just dropped off stereo equipment at a pawn shop in exchange for a loan -- and worries she'll be back.

"Due to low funds, I had to do this so I could pay a bill," Emmerich said. "I'm gonna have to sell my son's guitar, I don't know, it's getting down to the nitty-gritty."

As lending institutions, pawn shops are considered essential businesses in Wisconsin. Items like jewelry and laptops are put down as collateral for short-term loans. Interest rates are high, but defaults don't affect a credit score; the pawnbroker simply keeps the item and tries to sell it for a profit.

"It's a pretty active place throughout the year," said pawn shop owner Glenn Lakritz. "I think the stimulus is helping people for this short period of time."

That, and tax returns and unemployment checks are providing relief to some.

Lakritz thought he'd be seeing more people like Emmerich due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead, foot traffic at his shop has gotten slower. Now, he is the one seeking money.

He applied for a loan from the federal government's Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) but never heard back. The National Pawnbrokers Association says they've been told that pawnbrokers are "not eligible" because they are lenders. The NPA also says pawnbrokers should be eligible if most of their revenue comes from sales -- not loans.

Either way, Lakritz isn't worried.

Glenn Lakritz

"If this is extended I think that times are gonna get pretty tough for people and I think they're gonna appreciate that we're here," he said.

For Emmerich, the crisis is now.

"I don't think this is really a last resort, I think this is a good resort," she said.

With We Energies suspending disconnections in response to COVID-19 and the state moratorium on evictions, the Lakritz speculates that people aren't feeling the urgency to pawn items. He thinks that will change when those bills finally come due.