Alan Kortick’s family has seen a lot of changes in the pawn shop industry.
The owner of Downtown Pawn Shop at 564 Broad St. took over his grandfather’s store in 1990. Kortick’s grandfather, Harry Simowitz, started a military surplus store, Nu System Surplus Co., in that location in 1950, and it became Downtown Pawn Shop in 1952.
Kortick’s father, Maurice Kortick, owned a pawn shop across the street, Gordon Military Store – later known as Gordon Pawn Shop. Kortick and his father had “friendly competition” until Gordon Pawn Shop closed in 2005.
“The perception of pawn has changed tremendously due to the television shows,” Kortick said. “I think the shows have been good for our business. There used to be a stigma of buying something used that someone else had owned. You don’t see that as much.”
In the past few years, the shop’s clientele has shifted, and people of all income levels come through the doors, Kortick said.
Even famous musicians and athletes have bought items at the shop.
“Your loans have gotten a lot bigger,” Kortick said. “The merchandise that you take in, it’s not so much what it’s worth anymore. It’s what you think you can do with it if somebody doesn’t pick it up. If a TV is worth $1,000, but you know you can only get $300 for it, then you’ve got to make a loan on what you feel you can sell the item for.”
The gold-buying market has helped business, and customers are more informed about the value of their items, manager Matt Butler said.
Downtown Pawn Shop gives customers 90 days to retrieve pawned items. And most of the items are picked up by the owners, Kortick said.
Because many of their patrons need extra money for gas or essentials before their next paycheck, they bring in items on Monday and retrieve them on Friday when they get paid.
They’re trying to make it from one paycheck to the next, he said.
Higher gas prices have contributed to that trend. Pawn shops are a direct reflection of society and human necessity, Butler said.
“We’re just little guys that try and help the community, people that can’t help themselves,” Kortick said. “A lot of the people that come in here, they can’t go to the bank and get a loan.”
Kortick has spent his entire career in the pawn shop business.
He worked at his father’s pawn shop through high school, and after graduation he started working for his grandfather.
Some years ago, Kortick opened A&B Pawn in Martinez with a business partner, but he closed it after five years to focus on his downtown store.
“Downtown is where our business’ roots are,” Butler said. “It’s a very community-oriented business, especially when you’ve been in business so long. After half a century of being in business, people feel comfortable coming to us because they know we’ll take care of them.”
Butler has worked for both Kortick and his father. Butler’s great-grandfather was the manager of another store owned by Kortick’s grandfather, King Harry’s Music Service, which had pinball machines, pool tables and jukeboxes.
Their families are tied by business and blood.
Butler’s great-grandfather and Kortick’s grandfather were brothers and emigrated to the U.S. together from Europe after World War I.
“I learned a lot working for the father, and I’ve learned a lot working for the son,” Butler said.