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TV shows boost interest in pawn business

Dan Tillberg and Judy Collins from Viking Pawn and Pay Day Loans run the local shop. (photo by Tara Bitzan)1 / 2
Guns and sporting equipment are popular items at Viking Pawn. (photo by Tara Bitzan)2 / 2

Some pawn shop owners may question the "reality" in two popular reality television shows - Pawn Stars and Hardcore Pawn - but many are happy the shows are running, nonetheless.

"Our traffic has doubled since those shows started," said Dan Tillberg, who works at Viking Pawn and Pay Day Loans on Broadway in Alexandria.

Hardcore Pawn is a truTV documentary reality series that shows the day-to-day operations of American Jewelry and Loan, a family-owned pawn shop in Detroit.

History Channel's hit series Pawn Stars is filmed at the Gold and Silver Pawn Shop in Las Vegas, which is owned by three colorful characters - Rick Harrison, his son, Big Hoss and his dad, lovingly referred to as "Old Man."

Six million viewers tune in weekly to see the latest oddities people try to pawn at the shop, as well as to be entertained by the Harrisons' antics.

While Tillberg and his boss, Judy Collins, may not be as colorful as the TV stars, they have still seen an increase in traffic in their store, and know that the shows have stirred up people's curiosity.

"They come in just to see what kind of treasures they might find," Collins said. "They're curious."

While both Collins and Tillberg feel that Pawn Stars is a little far-fetched, they are still thankful that these reality shows have helped pawn shops break free of a long-time misconception.

"A lot of people think that many of the items brought to pawn shops are stolen," Tillberg said. "That's simply not true."

He added that statistically, nationwide less than 1 to 2 percent of all items brought to pawn shops are proven to be stolen items.

He noted that everything that comes into the Alexandria store is documented, and that sellers must be 18 years of age with a valid driver's license in order to sell or pawn.

The local shop also works closely with Minnesota Crime Alert and with local law enforcement. When a crime of significance occurs in a registered alert area, a crime summary is immediately sent out to increase awareness and to help in apprehending the criminal(s).


Pawn shops buy, sell and trade items and give loans.

"This is how banking started," Collins said. "Someone needed money, someone else gave them money and took something they had as collateral. That's what we're all about."

One of the draws of a pawn shop is that a person can get a loan very quickly.

A person may bring an item to a pawn shop and do one of three things.

1 Get a loan from a pawn broker by using an item of value for collateral. The customer and broker agree on a loan amount based on the value of the item, and agree on an interest rate. The customer walks out of the store with the money in hand. If they want the item back, they set up a payment plan, or return within 60 days to pay off the loan in full with interest and regain possession of the collateral. If they do not fulfill their obligation in the required amount of time, the item is put up for sale by the pawn shop.

2 Sell the item outright to the pawn broker. The customer walks out the door with the agreed upon amount, and the broker tries to make a profit by selling the item for more than he paid for it.

3 Trade an unwanted item for something else in the store.

"Nobody loses an item unless they want to," Tillberg explained. "The items are not put up for sale unless they sell them to us outright or they don't fulfill their part of the deal."

The local pawn shop doesn't have a financial limit to what it will buy or take in as collateral, but doesn't take just anything.

"We won't take items that we don't think we can sell," Tillberg explained. "Motorized scooters don't go well, and things like prosthetic legs are not a good item for us."

He added that they also can't take titled items, such as cars.

"We don't see a lot of really big ticket items," he said, adding that guns, jewelry and guitars are common.

Some of the items that may have a smaller market are sold online.

"We've had several high end guitars come through and those we'll put on the Internet," Tillberg said. "We had an original Martin guitar that was sold to someone in Norway."


Viking Pawn and Pay Day Loans was started in 1991. Tillberg has been on staff since 1998 and Collins purchased the business in 2000.

The store employs a couple other part-time employees, and is open Mondays through Saturdays.

"We have a lot of customers who don't pawn or sell but who just come in to buy," Collins said. "Why buy new when you can get something for half price?

"We have a constant flow of things, so some customers come in regularly to see what's new," she added. "We also offer layaway."

Besides the high end guitars mentioned above, some of the more memorable items Tillberg and Collins have seen come through the store include rare coins and an original Civil War sword.

"That's about it," Tillberg said. "It isn't like they portray it on TV, where all these rare, high-end items are showing up regularly."

"It's not glamour and glitz, but we do fulfill a need," Collins added.

Follow #AlexMN @EchoPress Life Editor Tara Bitzan on Twitter at @TBitzan.

Tara Bitzan

Tara Bitzan is editor of the Echo Press. She joined the company in 1991 as a news reporter. A lifelong resident of Douglas County, Tara graduated from Brandon High School and earned a bachelor of arts degree in mass communications and English with a minor in Scandinavian Studies from Moorhead State University. She and her husband, Dennis, and their children live near Alexandria.

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