Kevin Renegar had a choice.
The struggling painter and home remodeler in an economy that has almost no construction work, a father of two kids ages 3 and 12, could keep his nice digital camera at home and take pictures of his kids.
Or he could pawn that camera and buy groceries.
Renegar pawned that camera Wednesday. He left World Record Holder Pawn without his camera, but with a pawn ticket and cash for food.
"My kids gotta eat," he said.
That's the economy and real families few politicians ever talk about, or see, as they yammer on about a recession and unemployment and national debt and blame each other.
"We are the poor man's bank," said Doug Mason, owner of Rock Hill Pawn Shop who for the past 23 years has seen all economic conditions. "People are out of work. They need money short term to pay bills. That's where we help. I help anybody I can."
No politician screaming about debt and tough choices will ever tell you this on C-SPAN or the TV news, but pawnshops offer short-term loans on goods when the choice is hungry kids or paying the rent.
The shop owner takes the goods as collateral, gives the customer cash, and holds the merchandise for a fee. If the person can get the money together later, he pays back the loan - with interest - and gets the stuff back.
At Mason's store Wednesday morning, a guy walked in needing money for bills, so he pawned a compound bow used for hunting and left with money to keep the heat on. He walked in after a man named James Tweed, an unemployed carpenter from York who knows all about the crisis in the economy and jobs, brought in 16 DVD movies and a circular saw. Tweed didn't pawn the stuff: He sold it.
"Gas money," Tweed said. "It has come to this. Selling movies and my saw for gas."
Tweed arrived after two guys in the heating and air conditioning installation business from Chester named Derek Henderson and Jeremy Ash pulled up in a work truck with a front tire that had steel belts showing through the rubber. They had a saw in the back and wanted to see what they could get for it, just for a few dollars to pay bills.
Henderson did not sell or pawn his saw - he said the saw was worth more to him. He left with his saw and his bills and his worry.
Pawnshops, strictly regulated by the state and required to notify law enforcement of all transactions, are at times the last resort for people who are out of options.
The retail selling of goods - from jewelry to electronics and everything in between - is good, local pawn operators said Wednesday. But the increase in pawning of items for short-term loans, with so many people needing money for emergency bills, is emblematic of the struggling economy.
"People have nowhere else to turn sometimes," said Mason of Rock Hill Pawn Shop.
Jake and Teresa Silcox opened World Record Holder Pawn on Valentine's Day and have been "shocked" by the demand and foot traffic in just over a week in business.
"I had a lady in here this morning who sold her wedding rings," Jake Silcox said. "People are just really struggling."
The Silcoxes said that in lean years past - when they were racing motorcycles in the drag racing entertainment business for a living and sponsorships were hard to get - they pawned items themselves to pay bills. They knew the pawn business thrives when the economy is at its worst.
Another woman pawned her wedding silver Wednesday morning, Teresa Silcox said. The flatware was right there on a shelf - one box of silver service, another box of gold-plated - in the wooden boxes with velvet interiors that were somebody's gift and dream on the best day of their life so many years ago. They now sat in a pawnshop. The silver might get home one day to a china cabinet, or it might not.
"We have been on the other side of the pawn window, and we just want to help people out," Teresa Silcox said.
For Doug Mason, his sign says pawnshop, but he's really a banker, a merchant and often something more important then even those titles.
"Sometimes the loan I can give someone keeps the lights on for their kids," Mason said.
Kevin Renegar, who pawned his camera Wednesday, had to fill out forms with the serial numbers of the camera. He had to prove his identity, and even have his fingerprints put on a card. He went through all that regulation, pawning a camera, so his kids could eat Wednesday night.
"I came to a pawnshop today because I had nowhere else to turn," Renegar said. "The kids come first."