Since Wall Street investment manager Bernard Madoff's alleged Ponzi scheme was revealed, business has been booming at a pawn shop near Palm Beach, Fla., where many of Madoff's investors are based.
A Wall Street Journal story Monday noted some of the calls that Royal Pawn & Jewelry Inc. owner Levi Touger fielded over the weekend. People offered to pawn a Ferrari, a Tiffany ring and a yacht worth over $500,000 — not the average pawn shop fare. But Touger tells Michele Norris that his shop has been busy since the credit crunch began a year ago, "regardless of this story."
While most people caught in the Madoff scandal have been mum about their losses, Touger says some of his customers have confirmed that they were caught in it. Victims of the scheme have tried to pawn everything from high-end and low-end jewelry to specialty tennis rackets to a 72-inch plasma screen TV that retails for about $12,000.
"Anything I can price, I'll try to help you and give you something for it," Touger says — meaning "fast cash loans — that's the motto of our business."
Most of his customers "are somewhat humbled," he says, so he tries to be understanding and help them get some closure. But he also has to be realistic. A customer may be shocked to learn, for example, that a diamond that cost $30,000 is worth only about $8,000 on the wholesale market.
Pawn shops are not necessarily associated with the very rich — so, when things go bad, does this test the age-old question: Are the rich really different?
"One of the most successful pawn shops in the country is in Beverly Hills. Need I say more?" Touger says. "Are the rich different? They're not."