It was 4:45 pm on Saturday and the creepy looking pawn shop near Pape Ave. was going to close in 15 minutes. It should have been impossible for me to make it there, but I busted through the throngs of shoppers on Queen Street East and nearly pushed one woman over, because that’s what you do when you’re suddenly really broke.
A couple days prior I had sold a useless gold pen and an old watch to the owner for $30, but that kind of chump change doesn’t last long in the city, and I soon turned to my old laptop for a quick fix. It was in my backpack when I arrived at the Queen and Jones Pawnbroker 14 minutes later, sweaty and hopeful. I also prayed no one I knew would walk by or see me from the trendy Te Aro cafe across the street. After what seemed like an hour of standing there on the sidewalk, Bing, and his associates finally said, “NO.” I felt horrified.
“I want to run as far away as I can, but I don’t know how,” Bing told me a few days later when I decided to ask him about what it’s been like to own a pawn shop in Leslieville since 1995. Was it as colourful and as murky as I’d imagined? Was Bing one of those unscrupulous lenders who stripped desperate clients of clothes, shoes, false teeth and glass eyes?
If anything, the Queen and Jones Pawnbroker owner says he will buy something even if he doesn’t want it, but usually after much heated haggling occurs. He’s dealt with clients in far worse financial situations than myself and when people need money bad, they’ll usually do just about anything for it. It can get downright ugly.
Although it’s nothing like popular TV show Pawn Stars, the daily grind at Queen and Jones Pawnbrokers still has entertainment value. Bing tells me this, recalling the woman who marched in, flipped him the bird and said, “Want this?”
At Bing’s pawn shop you can buy a 10 karat gold diamond ring for $500. There are lots to choose from. Bicycles are as little as $50, and CDs are $2. The store is full of jewelry, musical instruments, cell phones and small household appliances, like the vacuum cleaner someone probably got a few dollars for. Did they need that money for food? Drugs? Who knows. Sometimes sellers will buy back their items back and when they don’t, Bing will try to sell the item usually for more than what he paid, if he’s lucky.
As for me, I sold my laptop on Kijiji a day later, and finally got the pay cheque I was waiting for. In the midst of packing boxes recently, I came across an old lighter that looks just like a handgun. It was my grandfather’s and I never liked it, so for fun one day I walked (not ran) it over to Bing and, less than a minute later, strolled away with an extra $10 in my pocket. I felt proud, like a real pawn star.