STEVE INSKEEP, host:
Even in one of this country's priciest zip codes, times are tight. An upscale pawnshop in Beverly Hills has become an alternative bank for people who cannot get their bankers to lend. Debra Baer of member station KPCC reports.
DEBRA BAER: Befitting a town where image is everything, the Beverly Loan Company is tucked away on the third floor of the Bank of America building in Beverly Hills, a block east of Rodeo Drive.
Mr. JORDAN TABACH-BANK (Collateral Lender, Beverly Loan Co.): There's a Picasso. We see a lot of Picassos. We see Chagalls, Warhols, Lichtensteins...
BAER: That's Jordan Tabach-Bank, collateral lender to celebrities and other denizens of L.A.'s wealthy neighborhoods. His grandfather started the business during the Great Depression.
Mr. TABACH-BANK: Lalique, Baccarat, as well as a hourglass of diamonds put out by DeBeers.
BAER: The finery for sale are remnants of tough times for the well-heeled, either sold outright for quick cash or used as collateral on loans that went unpaid. Traditionally, he says, a big percentage of his business has been the asset-rich, but cash-flow challenged who can't always call their banker because they have blemished credit. But now he's getting a new kind of clientele, people who do know how to manage their money but can't get a simple loan on their home equity or money for a small business or to buy a car.
Mr. TABACH-BANK: Never before have we seen so many white-collar customers, so many doctors, so many lawyers, so many accountants, businessmen and women here, getting the $50,000-plus loans. Normally these are the people with great credit who can go into a bank and get the big loans. But that's not the case anymore.
BAER: Business has been brisk since the Hollywood writers' strike, says Beverly Loan employee Dan Rifkin, and the onset of the subprime mortgage mess, which put a lot of people out of work. Now it's the credit crisis and L.A.'s worsening economy.
Mr. DAN RIFKIN (Employee, Beverly Loan Company): One guy came in yesterday who was owed $150,000 for a movie that he did, and the studio bounced the check. He's got to pay his bills, so he came in here, left some items with us. And he was happy he was able to pay his bills. He'll be back in a month to pick them up, thanks very much.
Mr. MARK FRIEDMAN (Entrepreneur): Beverly Loan is like family, maybe even more so than family, because sometimes you can't go to family.
BAER: Or even to associates, says longtime customer Mark Friedman.
Mr. FRIEDMAN: The most I borrowed at one time was about $125,000. I was purchasing a piece of property in Hawaii, and I was short for about two weeks. I knew I was getting the money elsewhere, but I couldn't go to anybody else. I gathered up all my jewelry I had - even got a piece of jewelry from somebody else - went in, and 15 minutes later they counted out $120,000 in cash. They didn't blink. They didn't blink.
BAER: Friedman describes himself as an entrepreneur who deals in entertainment, real estate, and boxing. One of his multimillion-dollar property deals, he says, is tied up because banks aren't lending like they used to. Short on cash, he pawned a ring to cover his $20,000 monthly expenses.
Mr. FRIEDMAN: I just went in there three weeks ago. As a matter of fact, I've got the pawn ticket here. I just took my wife's diamond ring and took it into the pawn shop, OK?
BAER: Anybody can run into a cash crunch, says Jordan Tabach-Bank. He tells his customers that they shouldn't feel stigmatized for having to hock the family jewels.
Mr. TABACH-BANK: Receiving a loan against a beautiful Cartier diamond is no different at all than receiving a loan against your home.
BAER: Especially in times like these. For NPR News, I'm Debra Baer in Beverly Hills.