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Secrets of a Third Generation Pawnbroker

Les Gold is the tough-talking, larger-than-life reality star of cable’s Hardcore Pawn. He says his five decades of experience have given him a better education in business than any MBA program ever could. Now he’s revealing what he’s learned in his bestselling book, “For What It’s Worth.”

I flew to Detroit to visit his 50,000-square-foot store, American Jewelry and Loan, to learn more about his sales savvy. Gold, a third-generation pawnbroker closed his first deal at his grandfather’s store when he was just a kid. “A gentleman came in looking for a hydraulic jack. I was asking $14 for the jack…he offered me $5 or $6 and we ended up settling on $10. At seven years old, $10 was like a million-dollar deal. I was hooked immediately,” says Gold.

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His first rule of business: There’s a market for everything. “I took an Elizabeth Taylor brooch for $100,000 in pawn. I’ve taken in prosthetic limbs, prosthetic eyes,” he says. “If someone bought it once, my theory is someone’s going to buy it again.”

But success doesn’t come without failure. Gold recalls the embarrassing time he paid $5,000 for a luxury watch that was actually counterfeit. “If you don’t make a mistake, you’ll never learn how to fix it. That was a mistake that I wish I never made, but I did make that mistake.”

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For those curious about making a fast buck, Gold notes some household items are more valuable than others. “Always look for jewelry. There’s no question, silver, diamonds, gold, platinum [will sell],” he says. Also on his list: laptop computers, video games, costume jewelry, old comic books and sports memorabilia.

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American Jewelry and Loan makes 1,000 loans a day, and its location on Detroit’s 8-Mile makes it one heck of an economic barometer. “Detroit is going bankrupt, but Detroiters are not,” says Gold. “When the pawn line is long, I know the economy is really bad. When the redeem line — or pick-up line — is longer, I know the economy is getting better. [Right now] my pawn line is getting shorter, and my redemption line is getting longer…So, yes, the city has a big financial burden on itself, but right now, it’s coming back…slow but sure,” he says.

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