Pawn shops across Delaware are in disarray and in search of answers after they were ordered to cease all operations in the latest round of business closures as part of the State of Emergency Declaration in response to the coronavirus (COVID) pandemic.
Earlier this week, Governor John Carney banned all short-term rental units and ordered all pawn shops, video game stores, and electronics stores to close. This comes weeks after the initial order was issued categorizing businesses across the state as essential and non-essential, which at the time permitted pawn shops to operate.
Following the latest order, pawn shops owners statewide have found themselves with their hands tied, not knowing how to move forward as they’re barraged by patrons either wanting their items back or in desperate need of a loan.
Juan Caride, assistant and husband of the owner of Dover Jewelry and Pawn Exchange in Dover, said the closure order comes at the worst possible time as a majority of their patrons have low-income and rely on their shop to help them get by financially, especially now as many are without jobs in this time of economic uncertainty.
“Now, since the Governor closed us down, people are scared, they don’t have the money to pick it up, and they don’t even have the money right now to extend. They were going to wait until the middle of the month to be able to get their check and pick up,” Caride said. “Now, it’s all frozen. I can’t give any of their stuff back.”
Over 80-percent of the business Caride receives is from people in need. Dover Jewelry and Pawn Exchange is known throughout the community for their compassion and the relationship they have with their patrons. The owner, Toni Caride, oversees all transactions and will often times lend more than a product is worth in order to help the shop’s patrons in their time of need.
Caride has constantly received calls at the shop from concerned and upset patrons, one man even threatened physical harm if he did not receive his stuff back.
“People are calling me, they’re upset, and we have a lot of genuine people,” Caride stressed. “I’d say probably over 80-percent of my business is really people in need.”
During the interview with Caride, WGMD’s Rob Petree could hear the shop’s phone ringing constantly in the background, patrons calling to express concerns over the closure order and what it means for the items they pawned and now need back.
“What we are is a lending institution. We’re the poor man’s bank,” Caride explained. “People come to us with a $500 loan with a computer, a TV, a lawnmower, or jewelry, and they’re short on money because it’s hard to make it in life right now. And now people are without work, so now they really can’t pick up their stuff and now they’re scared they can’t even pay on it because we’re closed. I don’t know what we’re going to do, I’m scared.”
There are many patrons who will pawn items only needed for seasonal work, such as landscapers who pawn tools or a lawnmower, and now with the weather getting warmer they need to return to that line of work but can’t because they cannot retrieve their items because the shop is closed.
“I have two big contractors and they pawn all of their mowers,” Caride said. “They do four to five thousand dollar loans on their zero turns and their steal chainsaws and we keep it over the winter. Well, now these items they want, these items they need, in order to start working again because it’s season, it’s grass season now. All I’m doing now is telling them no and they’re all upset.”
Under state law, pawn shops are required to provide patrons with their property when they request it providing they pay the total amount due within the time allotted and agreed to during the initial transaction.
“All I am is a legal custodian to a property,” explained Caride. “I have to give it back to them by law when they request it and they bring their money.”
Caride said he understands fully the concerns over the spread of the coronavirus and the need for social distancing, and that’s why prior to the closure his shop was only allowing one or two patrons in at a time and in between transactions they disinfected everything.
“They’re worried about us? We get maybe one or two persons who come in, do business, and leave. I don’t understand that part,” Caride said. “We are the poor man’s bank and people need us, 80-percent of my business is people in need. We need help, and we at least have to give people their property back.”
WGMD’s Rob Petree reached out to the Governor’s Office and spoke with the Communications Director, Jonathan Starkey, who said many of the impacts to businesses as a result of the closure were unanticipated. He issued the following statement:
“Many of the specific impacts across various industries are unanticipated, because of the day-to-day nature of this situation. So we would urge business owners to reach out, describe the issues you face in detail,” Starkey stated. “The Division of Small Business will work to address your specific issue, and provide support through this very challenging time. Business owners can contact the Division of Small Business at COVID19FAQ@delaware.gov, or call 302-577-8477 between 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. during the week. Detailed emails that specifically address the issue or concern are encouraged because of significant call volume.”
Following our phone call with the Governor’s Office, later that evening, Toni Caride informed our Rob Petree that she received a call from the Assistant to the Governor who is reportedly looking into reopening pawn shops by appointment only.