Pawn shops get busier during a recession

Charlie Bell knows the stories of many of his customers at Port Royal Gun and Pawn -- from the wealthy man who plunks down a gold Rolex to get $2,000 for a gambling trip to Las Vegas, to the young military wife looking for $50 to buy groceries for her children.

Since the economy tightened up, Bell said he's seen plenty of new faces among the regulars who come to his store for the quick, no-nonsense loan they need to make ends meet.

He likes that his shop is a lifeline for many in the community who need it.

"A pawn shop is a small bank. We just loan money to people," said Bell, who has owned the shop on Mossy Oaks Road for 25 years. "I meet a lot of people, and I help a lot of people."

To thousands of consumers around the country feeling the pain of the recession, pawn shops have become one of the best places to get money to pay bills or buy necessities.

In exchange for electronics, a piece of jewelry or even a pistol, a customer can walk away with cash in less than 10 minutes -- no credit check or bank account required. The item itself is the collateral, and pawnbrokers often resell pawned items to new customers looking for a deal on used merchandise.

Consumers, if they move quickly enough, can also return to the pawn shop when their money woes ease and get back what they traded, Bell said. Most of his customers do return to re-purchase their items.

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