While pawn shops serve well heeled shoppers looking for a rifle, a watch or a musical instrument, they also can be the last resort for a down-on-his-luck unemployed worker looking to pawn his tools for a few bucks. And while pawn shops aren’t exactly like a payday lending business, Rock Hill City Council members are considering placing them in the same category.
Council members have given initial approval to stricter zoning requirements that limit where pawn shops can be located. The proposal would add pawn shops to a list of businesses categorized as alternative financial options, including check cashing establishments, payday lending businesses, title loan companies and debt collection companies.
We think the new restrictions would be a sensible move.
If the council gives final approval, new pawn shops couldn’t be located within 300 feet of churches, homes, schools and public parks. The businesses also could not open within 1,000 feet of other pawn shops or businesses in the alternative financing category.
Rock Hill’s five existing pawn shops would be “grandfathered in” and allowed to stay open even if they don’t meet the new standards. But city officials will have to decide what regulations apply if they decide to expand their operations.
City officials concede that one motive for the new regulation is to prevent a high concentration of businesses such as pawn shops and payday lenders in one place. It gives the perception that the city’s residents are “economically depressed,” said Leah Youngblood, senior planner for Rock Hill.
We think that’s a legitimate concern. Cherry Road, for example, already is home to nearly half of the 53 businesses classified as alternative financial services. City records also show that there is one small loan business for every 2,800 people in Rock Hill.
Again, pawn shops, unlike some other businesses in that category, serve a wide range of customers. And, in addition to taking items as collateral for loans, they also sell high-end jewelry, musical instruments, guns, appliances, power tools and a variety of other goods to folks looking for a good deal.
The popular cable TV show Pawn Stars about a real Las Vegas pawn shop illustrates how such an establishment can deal in anything from an Abe Lincoln signature to a vintage car.
Nonetheless, one of the primary functions of a pawn shop is to serve as an alternative lending institution, a poor man’s bank. Unscrupulous pawn shops also are known to sell stolen merchandise.
Rock Hill doesn’t need a proliferation of low-end pawn shops and other lending businesses clumped in one part of the city. That could create the aura of a distressed section of town and discourage other more desirable development.
At least some of the existing pawn shops are unconcerned with the proposed regulations. The new rules would minimize competition, which would work to the advantage of those pawn shops already here.
Pawn shops have their place, but it’s not on every corner of the city. These regulations, we think, strike a fair balance, and we hope they will be approved by the council.