Gold & Silver Pawn Shop
November – December 2015
Gold & Silver Pawn Shop
RICK HARRISON MAKES PAWNING THE STAR OF VEGAS.
BY MEGG MUELLER
Rick Harrison falls into the latter category. He is the owner of the Gold & Silver Pawn Shop in Las Vegas, which his father Rich- ard—“The Old Man”—opened in 1988. He is also the star of HISTORY’S incredibly popular reality show “Pawn Stars,” based around the shop and its customers. The show launched in 2009, and life changed forever for Rick and his family. The unlikely star seems amused by his place in the spotlight.
“Ever since I was a kid, I was just a massive bookworm. I’m a huge nerd. You could put Kim Kardashian in front of me and I wouldn’t know who she was,” Rick says. “I seriously have no idea what she looks like.”
So how does a self-confessed nerd end up becoming a TV star and owner of the No. 1 non-gam- ing attraction in Las Vegas? Let’s just say, it was in the stars.
A PENCHANT FOR PAWN
“I was definitely a history professor in a former life,” Rick says, laughing. “The history lessons are my favorite part of the business.” History has long been a fascination for Rick, starting from when he was a young boy, dealing with epileptic seizures and headaches. He buried himself in books to ease the pain, and found solace in such stories such “The Great Brain”—a series of books by John D. Fitzgerald. The protagonist is a young hustler who uses his wits to create money-making schemes. Rick describes the character in his 2011 autobiography “License to Pawn: Deals, Steals, and My Life at the Gold & Silver” thusly:
He was a generous schemer, a con artist with a big heart. He’d do things like build a roller coaster in his backyard and charge to let people ride it, but there was always some twist at the end that caused him to have a crisis of conscience and give all the money back.
Rick was hooked on the adventures he found in books, and even admits he read a book about the history of batteries…twice. He wasn’t fond of school, but books gave him an education that is evident today as he deals with the goods that come into his store. From treasures to trash, almost everything has or likely will pass through the doors of the Gold & Silver Pawn Shop. Rick and his son Corey—along with his dad and employee Austin “Chumlee” Rus- sell—are challenged to determine the value of the items brought before them. Not every object is a diamond in the rough, but over the years, some unique things have made it into the shop.
“I get so much weird stuff,” Rick says. “Sometimes you’ll see me wearing a goofy-looking gold bracelet; it’s a 1,200-year-old Viking bracelet.”
A chair used by Nevada’s Senator Pat McCarran to infamous casino owner Benny Binion’s hat (verified by Benny’s daughter and Rick’s favorite Las Vegas item), and a Pony Express bible are just a few of the things people have brought into the shop to sell or pawn. Rick believes his store’s location is a major reason so many eclectic items are seen.
“The whole fact that I’m on Las Vegas Boulevard… so many wealthy people retire in Vegas,” he explains. “If it’s not the most eclectic city, it’s one of the most. That’s why I get so much great stuff.”
STILL JUST A SHOP
In 1988, if the store had 70 customers a day, that was considered good. Today, that number is slightly different; upwards of 4,000 people a day pass through the doors of the Gold & Silver. Many spend hours waiting to get in, and while a line snakes through the display cabinets showing the store’s wares, some just come for the Chumlee T-shirt or Old Man silver coins that are but a few of the souvenirs available of the now-famous quartet.
“Your business model changes a lot,” he says. “The pawn business has definitely been impacted. But my regular customers know they can go to the front of the line and get in.”
Rick shows his soft spot for his home since 1981; anyone with a Nevada ID can move to the front of the line, too.
“People in town are always wanting to bring friends down. I don’t want to make those people wait,” he says. Along with the lines, being a celebrity on reality television has meant the store closes during filming, often three times a day for an hour at a time. It’s an unavoidable byproduct of fame, but there are some cool benefits, too.
CASHING IN ON FAME
His celebrity status helped spur the creation of the Pawn Stars Poker Run to benefit the Epilepsy Foundation of Nevada. Rick has grown out of the seizures that plagued him as a child, but the mark they left is indelible, and the Poker Run—which had its second run in October—is a way to help others afflicted by epilepsy.
“It’s just the most underfunded charity…there’s so many people affected by it but it doesn’t get the props or money it deserves,” he says. “The money raised goes to hospital visits and research.”
There’s no doubt the pawn shop has helped revive the north end of The Strip, and Rick’s Pawn Plaza will continue that trend. The newly opened shopping, dining, and entertainment center is located just across from the Gold & Silver and is Rick’s vision of a cool place to hang out.
Tenants such as Vegas Flip Flops, BodySpa Salon, Pawn Plaza Vow Renewals by vegasweddings.com, Inna Gadda di Pizza, Pawn Donut & Coffee, So-Cal Speed Shop, Rick’s Rollin’ Smoke BBQ & Tavern, Smoke’s Poutinerie, and Rita’s Italian Ice were hand-selected for their cool factor. A lot of large chain stores wanted in, Rick recounts, and despite a promise of five-year contracts that would bring a lot of money, he declined.
“My dad was literally freaking out, but I was saying no,” he says. “There are amazing brands that make lots of money, but you never go to them…you end up at them. I could have built the center for half the price, but I didn’t want it to be someplace to just stop at, but a place that was a destination.”
And despite promises to his wife that life will slow down in the next couple of years, he is planning on tending bar at the barbecue joint on Friday and Saturday nights. Just don’t expect any Tom Cruise in “Cocktail” flair; Rick admits the only drinks he can make are the ones that have the ingredients in the name (think: rum and coke).
While he may not be a font of libation information—or pseudo-celebrities—Rick’s considerable knowledge has certainly created one of the most entertaining, if unlikely, attractions in Las Vegas. And luckily, he shows no signs of selling that treasure anytime soon.
PLAN YOUR TRIP
Gold & Silver Pawn Shop
713 S. Las Vegas Blvd.
Las Vegas, NV 89101