The ups and downs of being a D.C. pawn shop during a shutdown

Starting on Oct. 11, depending on their pay cycle, some furloughed government workers who were supposed to get full paychecks didn't get them. Another batch will come up short today, and a third gets hit Thursday. Presumably, some feds don't have that thick a financial cushion, and might opt for the backup of people on the economic margins everywhere: Pawn shops.


When the government decides not to pay you, there's always Crown Pawn. (Google Maps)

Jessica Barakat, who manages the independent Crown Pawnbrokers on 14th Street NW, says she's seen a few of them come in over the past few days. "I basically just hear reasons a lot, why people can't make it through the week, when something unexpected happens, and people have to dip into their savings, or they don't want to," Barakat said. Fluctuations in gas prices have been a big reason why people need a short-term loan to get to work.

"And this is just a new one that we've heard: They've got no paycheck," she says.

That would comport with the typical performance of pawn shops during periods of economic distress; stocks of emergency loan services rose sharply in mid-2011. It's not necessarily a tidal wave of new business, though. Other local pawn shops polled by Wonkblog either said they'd seen no change, or couldn't talk without the permission of their corporate owners (First Cash and Famous Pawn are the two chains that operate in the area). Some even said they're affected not by the supply side of the equation, with folks looking to pawn their valuables, but rather the lack of demand: People aren't feeling flush enough to shop.

"We're losing business like everybody else, because nobody's spending money," said the proprietor of J&V Pawn on H Street NE, declining to give his name over the phone.

Any effects will likely be localized, given that D.C. has the highest concentration of federal workers and contractors; the National Pawnbrokers Association says they haven't noticed any concurrent effect around the country. But if the shutdown drags into default, and all of a sudden Social Security checks get delayed, that might start to have an effect.

Lydia DePillis is a reporter focusing on labor, business, and housing. She previously worked at The New Republic and the Washington City Paper. She's from Seattle.
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