COVID-19 brings unexpected trends to Wilmington pawn shops

At National Pawn’s three Wilmington locations, business during the COVID-19 pandemic has been steady in an unexpected way.

Shawn Rowell excepted a jump in the number of people pawning items at the stores he manages for National Pawn in Wilmington and Fayetteville during the pandemic. Instead, the shops saw an uptick in the number of customers coming in to browse and buy the store’s tools, jewelry, electronics, handbags and other items.

During the pandemic, North Carolina pawn shops were deemed essential businesses, which meant they remained open while other types of businesses were forced to temporarily shut down.

“They deemed us an essential business during COVID because of our financial aspect,” Rowell said. “People need to borrow money for a short term whether they’re employed or not employed.”

Shawn Rowell, right, regional manager with National Pawn, works with a customer at the store in Wilmington, N.C., Wednesday, September 1, 2021. The shop at 1702 Dawson St. opened in April after it had previously been Picasso Pawn.     MATT BORN/STARNEWS

Pawn shops like National Pawn allow customers to pawn items in exchange for a loan. The customer can get the item back by paying back the loan and its accumulated interest. The shop also purchases items from customers that they then sell.

“It’s more than just retail. It’s a financial institution,” Douglas Zelaya, a pawnbroker at National Pawn’s Dawson Street location, said.

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