Running a pawn shop can be a unique experience

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By Scott Akanewich

Upon entering Texas Pawn & Jewelry at its new location on SH 29 in Liberty Hill, visitors are immediately greeted by a friendly face, while the brilliant sunlight – which is allowed to filter through the large bay windows adorning the storefront – illuminates all manner of items featured on the walls, on shelves and inside glass display cases.

No bars on the windows. No dimly-lit corners. No grouchy merchants behind the counter waiting to capitalize on a customer’s current conundrum.

In other words, nothing like Hollywood likes to portray pawn shops in movies and reality television.

Troy Farr and wife Andrea are the owners of Texas Pawn and the Liberty Hill store is the third location the couple has opened, following shops in Hutto (2004) and Leander (2013).

As far as any stereotypes surrounding the business they’ve been in as proprietors for nearly two decades, Troy Farr said truth is certainly different from fiction.

“Hollywood has given us a reputation,” he said. “If people would come in and see what we’re all about, they would change their minds.”

Usually, two different kinds of transactions take place at pawn stores – clients who receive loans with items used as collateral with the intent of buying said items back and those who flat-out sell merchandise.

Of course, when an individual brings in an item off the street to either sell or get a loan on, there must be a protocol – including a check of local police records – which must be followed in order to ensure no stolen goods are accepted.

According to Troy, after years of being in the business, he’s savvy when it comes to quickly assessing a situation for legitimacy.

“With all the experience I have, I know how to read people,” said Troy. “We’ve turned people away.”

However, for the most part, the Farrs don’t come across much, if any, chicanery due to the area their stores are situated in, said Andrea.

“With the cities we serve here in Williamson County, we mostly deal with good, down-home folk who are just trying to make it,” she said. “People living paycheck to paycheck.”

Currently, there are only two pawn store chains in the U.S. which are publicly traded and Texas Pawn isn’t one of them, which allows the Farrs to call all the shots without corporate interference – and thankfully, said Andrea.

“We really appreciate the value of someone walking through the door,” she said.

Perhaps the biggest point of contention for both pawn shop owners and clients is the valuation of items that are brought in – a process which is now made easier by modern technology, but can still be a bit difficult at times, said Troy.

“People will come in with certain expectations as far as how much their item is worth,” he said. “But, these days with the internet, you can get a lot of information.”

Something as simple as eBay listings can go a long way in proving to clients how much similar items are currently selling for, which can eliminate much of the potential friction, said Andrea.

“Part of it is being able to explain to somebody what holds value,” she said.

Besides, it certainly behooves a dealer to give customers a fair price, said Troy.

“The more money we loan, the more we make,” he said. “This is a very gray business.”

An Austin native, Troy began his career in the industry by working for a company called Easy Pawn in his hometown and soon realized what a compelling line of work he had gotten himself into – something that still fuels his passion for the business to this day, he said.

“Every day is unique – you never see the same thing,” said Troy. “We’ve taken a Corvette and a $30,000 Rolex watch.”

Certainly, there’s no shortage of items available at Texas Pawn, ranging from jewelry to guns to guitars and just about everything else in between, including sports memorabilia, DVDs, televisions and the like.

But, one item definitely garners the most attention in the supply-and-demand department, said Troy.

“Guns hold a lot of value,” he said. “All kinds of weapons – we carry new stuff all the time.”

From hunting rifles to shotguns to pistols of all varieties, including a brand new Ruger with an extended barrel and a stars-and-stripes design on the handle, they’re all there.

The jewelry cases are where some of the biggest bargains can be had, though.

“Gold, silver, diamonds – all of that stuff comes out of the ground,” said Troy. “But, when you go to a retailer, there’s an enormous markup.”

As a result of the global COVID-19 pandemic, the pawn business has been duly affected, tipping the scales in a direction opposite than normal, said Andrea.

“Loans are lower and sales have been higher than usual,” she said. “Whether it’s tax refunds, stimulus or whatever, people seem to be buying.”

Speaking of people, owning a pawn store – especially in a small community – can have a huge upside for all, including those on both sides of the counter, said Troy.

“When we started in Hutto, it was a town of 5,500,” he said. “But, it was in a busy corridor between Taylor and Round Rock, so it grew. We feel Liberty Hill is a growing community in which people tend to live up to their means, so if something happens, they have things they can bring in to us.”

Which is the exact situation that begins building bonds that can have a lasting impact on those involved, providing perhaps the most gratifying aspect of the business, said Troy.

“What we do is all about building relationships with people,” he said. “We want to be empathetic and not look down on our customers, but treat them how we would want to be treated. We like to be good community members.”

So, if you ever visit the newest building in town, throw all of your preconceived notions out the window concerning what you’ve heard about the pawn industry.

Nothing like Hollywood – and definitely no drama.

In fact, the Farrs go out of their way to make it so.

“Chances are when someone comes to us, they’re probably not having a good day,” said Andrea. “We want to make it a better experience for them.”

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