Amazing finds at high-end Naperville pawnshop

By Kim Mikus | Daily Herald Staff
Published: 3/10/2009 12:06 AM

Mike McFarland desperately needed cash to repair his van and earn the license he needed to start a new job selling insurance.

The 45-year old Lisle man, scrambling to pay his bills, turned to a new Naperville pawnshop for financial assistance. McFarland sold an old watch and a ring for a few hundred dollars and put his electric acoustic guitar on loan for some fast cash.

“I had some unexpected expenses pop up. I just hocked a few things that I never use. The pawnshop is helping me get out of a tough time,” McFarland said. “I’m grateful to have it here, especially in this economy.”

At a time when stock portfolios are plunging and layoffs are soaring, Greg Holloway believes the timing is right for Naperville Jewelry & Loan pawnshop in Naperville.

A pawnshop – often carrying negative connotations – in family-friendly Naperville? Is this a sign of how tough the economy really is? Retail experts say “yes” and predict more stores may crop up as the recession grinds on.

The 38-year-old Holloway is aware of the stigma that comes with his business. In fact, Naperville was the only town in the area that allowed him to operate. He said several surrounding communities turned him down.

Holloway, who has shopped at pawnshops for years, says his business at 635 E. Ogden Ave. is different. “It’s a bit eclectic. We carry sports collectibles, antiques and even a Les Paul electric guitar signed by Chicago Blues legend Buddy Guy,” he said.

The shop also carries silver, jewelry and gold.

Holloway, who works closely with the Naperville Police Department, is governed and licensed through the Office of Banking and Financial Regulation.

The business either buys merchandise outright or offers loans, called pawn loans, for valuables. The customer brings in an item in exchange for the cash loan, and the business owner stores the merchandise for up to 60 days, at which time the loan is paid back and merchandise returned. The shopper is charged 3 percent interest per month and a handling and storage fee of up to 10 percent, Holloway said.

“Everyone is feeling the economic crunch,” said Holloway, who is raising his family in Naperville. Unemployed tradesmen have been regulars at the shop that opened a month ago.

Holloway himself was laid off after a 15-year career operating a chain of Quick Lube facilities.

“Times are tough out there,” he said.

It’s the deepening recession that’s sparking an interest in pawnshops across the country, mainly on the West and East coasts, retail analysts say.

While Naperville seems like an unusual community to support a pawnshop, it’s not surprising, experts said. “I truly think it’s a sign of the times,” said Mara Devitt, partner with McMillan Doolittle retail consulting in Chicago.

“It’s not surprising to see pawnshops popping up in towns like Naperville. This economic downturn is hitting upper middle class families,” said Dave Sievers, principle at Archstone Consulting with offices in Chicago. “I believe this type of shop will continue to build itself into the fabric of a city.”

With more creative marketing, the concept and image will begin to change, experts agree.

“Sure, there’s a negative image associated with pawn shops. But if it has the right ambience and, if it’s run right, it should be a positive asset to the town,” Devitt said.

Naperville Mayor George Pradel agrees and gave the first pawnshop in his town a “five star” rating. Admitting that he didn’t know what to expect when he fist visited the store, he said he was “impressed.”

“It’s not your typical pawnshop. It’s done tastefully,” Pradel said. “I think it will be accepted in the wonderful city of Naperville.”

He boasted that Holloway and business partner Tom Brunzelle, former high school buddies, are “two of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet.”

The mayor believes the economy supports the business. He admits that in years past, pawnshops permeated negative feeling. “There’s nothing negative about this place,” he said.

To offer his support, Pradel gave the entrepreneurs a bobblehead figure of himself to place near the cash register.

“They can tell customers that the ‘mayor is watching,'” he said.

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