Updated: Wed, 01/23/2013 - 01:05

Savannah's Welsh Pawn turns 100

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Steve Bisson/Savannah Morning News - Customer Donna Malecka, left, purchases a bracelet from Angela Hill in the jewelry department at the Welsh Pawn Shop DeRenne Avenue location.    Savannah Morning News
Savannah Morning News
Steve Bisson/Savannah Morning News - Customer Donna Malecka, left, purchases a bracelet from Angela Hill in the jewelry department at the Welsh Pawn Shop DeRenne Avenue location.
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If you have ever watched Pawn Stars on the History Channel, you have some idea of what kind of oddities can show up in a pawnshop. As Welsh Pawnshop celebrates its 100th anniversary in 2013, there is no shortage of tales of the strange items and eccentric customers who have made their way into the store over the years.

George Richmond opened Welsh in 1913 and took the name from a supermarket on the corner of Broad and Habersham at the original location of the pawnshop. The name of the supermarket and the people who owned it was Welsh, so Richmond just kept the name.

In a few years, Richmond’s brother, Harry, joined the business after having had his own shop at what is now Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Interstate 516. Eric Richmond, son of Harry, and now the company’s president assumed exclusive ownership of the business about 40 years ago after earning a business degree at the University of Georgia.

Today, the business has grown to include four locations: 3200 Skidaway Road, 418 W. Broughton St., 32 E. DeRenne Ave. and 586 Columbia Ave. in Rincon.

“We attribute the success to being honest,” said general manager David Epstein, who has 31 years with the company. “People know the name. They keep coming. They trust us.”

As with most pawnshops, the majority of the business is in jewelry, but Epstein says firearms have picked up of late.

“People are afraid of the government trying to take their guns,” said Epstein. “I don’t think it’s going to happen, but it’s good for business.”

If you’ve never used the services of a pawnshop, you might be surprised to learn who does.

“I’ve dealt with a lot of notable figures that wanted to remain anonymous,” said Epstein. “They didn’t want their banks or whomever to know they were pawning stuff.”

Epstein said some of his regulars have been bankers, lawyers and police officers, to name a few.

“It’s an easy way to borrow money,” he said.

The shop also has had some big names in the entertainment world.

“We’ve had big name rock bands when they’d come into town. We sold them a lot of stuff,” said Epstein. “We sold Run DMC a bunch of gold Rolexes.”

Epstein said he has had a host of professional wrestlers as customers.

“They love pawnshops,” he said. “They’d come in and buy gold.”

Epstein said musician Sly Stone once pawned his keyboard at Welsh.

Epstein and store manager John Fahning, who has 33 years with the company, have stories to tell.

“The first thing that took me by surprise,” said Epstein, “was in my second year here. A guy came in and he wanted to pawn his eye. He removed a prosthetic eye. I said, how much do you want for it? He said $20.”

Epstein said he didn’t normally take such items but he’d give him $15 to help him out.

“I handed it to one of my coworkers and told her to write up this ‘ring,’ ” he said. “She looked at it and screamed!”

The customer never returned , and Epstein keeps the glass eye in a small ring box to this day.

“I’ve seen people take off their prosthetic limbs and put them on the counter,” Epstein said. “I never took those. I just couldn’t do it.”

Epstein and Fahning tell the story of a man who came in to pawn his circus turtle. Sure enough, he had a turtle in a box.

Fahning asked, “What does this turtle do?”

The customer said the turtle does back flips, front flips and climbs up a ladder.

Epstein said, “Really? Let’s take him out of the box and see what he can do.”

The man said, “Well, he’s kind of tired from the last shop he was at. He’s not able to perform right now.”

The next question was, “Does he have any papers?”

“Funny you should ask,” said the customer. “There were papers, but they were in the bottom of the box and the turtle ‘went’ all over them.”

“We politely turned him down,” said Epstein.

Some of the most valuable things Welsh has had in its inventory were items such as Rolex Presidentials in the $20,000 - $30,000 range and numerous $20,000 rings that have come in over the years. They have even had Superbowl rings.

Today, Welsh Pawnshops have an extensive offering from gold and silver jewelry to musical instruments to firearms to valuable bronze castings.

“It’s hard to beat a good pawnshop when it comes to value,” said Epstein.

For those unfamiliar with pawning (borrowing against an item used for collateral) the maximum interest charged is 25 percent. If a customer leaves an item in pawn and pays the $25 a month interest charge, after three months the rate drops to 12.5 percent.

This can be done indefinitely or until the customer redeems the item. Welsh guarantees they will keep an item for 60 days even after a customer defaults before liquidating it. If the pawnshop buys an item, it must be kept for 30 days before it can be offered for sale. This gives the authorities time to make sure it’s not stolen or missing merchandise from somewhere else.

“Believe it or not, Leftfield Productions (the company that produces Pawn Stars for the History Channel) called me wanting to do an East Coast version,” said Epstein. “They noticed we were one of the oldest shops on the East Coast. Somehow or another we got past production time and they dropped us. They said they’d call us back but it never happened,” he said.

“We’re 100 years old. We are the original Pawn Stars.”

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