Locals forced to sell valuables to raise cash for bills, gas

Victor Plair, right, of David's Pawn Shop in Rock Hill, appraises a clarinet for Erin Miller, left, and Shareen Kelley on Thursday.
Victor Plair, right, of David's Pawn Shop in Rock Hill, appraises a clarinet for Erin Miller, left, and Shareen Kelley on Thursday.

The struggling economy is forcing more people to sell treasured belongings -- electronics, jewelry, guns, clothing and other items -- to raise cash for household bills and gas.

Many of them are unloading their most valuable stuff, said Diann Teague, owner of Teague's Pawn Shop in Rock Hill. "Up until October, we didn't get many flat-screen TVs -- we got older ones," she said.

In the last three months, pawn shop and consignment store owners say they've seen a marked increase in the number of people who are trying to sell anything of value to get money for bills or for Christmas gifts.

Teague said she also is seeing a change in sellers' attitudes from the past. "It's like they're defeated," she said.

Online sales also are up. According to a recent Harris Interactive survey, new listings on eBay jumped from 254 million in September 2007 to 290 million in September 2008.

The survey found that one in 10 U.S. adults is selling personal or household items to generate extra cash -- and 59 percent are doing so through online or auction sites such as eBay. Thirty percent of all adults report they're likely to sell something over the next three months to get cash, the survey found.

The Harris survey didn't determine to what degree the economy factors into the rise in online sales. But many of those visiting local pawn and consignment shops say they've been directly affected by the downturn.

Kyle Deese, 23, recently pawned his fishing rod and a pellet gun to help his mother make her car payment.

"My dad owns a paint company, and it's been slow," said Deese, who lives in Rock Hill. "Ain't nobody wanting to get houses painted right now. Last year, we were real busy."

Deese said he hopes to have enough money in the coming weeks to get the items back.

Pawning isn't the only route people are going to raise cash. More of them are selling clothing and baby articles on consignment, said Martha Hudson-Lowder, owner of The Kids Closet, a children's consignment store.

The Schoolhouse Exchange, a thrift shop that buys used clothing, accessories, records and CDs for cash or store credit, reports a 60 percent increase in people selling since Thanksgiving, co-owner Aaron Marsh said.

Among the sellers is Amanda Voss, who sold 10 items for $15 in gas money. "I sold clothes I really didn't want to part with because I knew they would bring me money," Voss said.

Michael Marlow, 19, accompanied Voss to The Schoolhouse Exchange. Marlow, who is out of work, said he was planning to return to the store to sell some clothing to raise cash.

Other consignment stores also report increases. The Kids Closet has seen a 20 percent growth in its consignment inventory in two months, Hudson-Lowder said.

"A lot of people are relocating because of job loss and want to sell before they leave or they are selling stuff to pay bills," she said. "I encounter six to seven people a day who say their husband or they have lost a job and they are just surviving."

Both pawn shop and consignment store owners say they are seeing a different clientele than in the past.

"I had a lady come in three or four weeks ago and laid three rings in the tray. She said 'I'm 78 years old, and I don't have enough money to get by until my next check comes,'" said David Dresner, owner of David's Pawn Shop in Rock Hill.

Dresner said he is adding about 20 new clients to his store's database each day.

Pawn shops allow people to raise cash by selling an item outright or by pawning it -- getting a short-term loan using the item for collateral. Those who pawn items can repay the loan, plus interest, to get the item back.

But many pawn shop owners say that this year, more people are selling items outright instead of pawning them with the intent of getting the items back.

"We are buying more than we ever have," Dresner said. Many tell Dresner they doubt they'll have the money to get the item back, so they just want to sell it.

Teague agreed. "Normally, people pawn things to get by until pay day. But now, there's not a payday coming. There's an uncertainty to their future."

Rock Hill resident Carl Sells took his electronic keyboard to a pawn shop to sell it. "I'm in a tight situation right now. I have to pay my gas and electric bill tomorrow," said Sells, 45.

One valuable item that's popular to sell now is gold because of its high value, according to Dresner. "We take more jewelry than we do anything, because jewelry is a luxury item," he said. "That is the first thing you can do without."

Allison Love's Fine Jewelry in Rock Hill also buys gold.

"People are selling for several reasons -- the price of gold is high, they have broken pieces lying around, or people need money for Christmas and bills," owner Allison Love said.

Love said she recently had a woman sell jewelry to pay a child's medical bills.

Dresner said some are scrambling to find something to sell. "Some of them have hit the bottom of the barrel," said Dresner.

Many try to sell broken or outdated items such as band instruments. "Your heart goes out to them because it's stuff you can't use. There's no market for it," he said. "It's hard when you know someone needs gas money or medicine for their children."

Erin Miller and Shareen Kelley came to David's last week to sell a clarinet for gas money. But Miller, 22, who is out of work, said the price the shop was willing to give her was not enough.

"I will try somewhere else," Miller said.

Local shop owners say they also are seeing buyers who represent a more diverse clientele.

"I'm seeing a lot of people that used to say, 'Ugh, I'm not wearing used clothing,' but with the economy, it's looking more attractive," said Hudson-Lowder, who said her store's overall sales are up 20 percent.

Said Teague: "We see more middle-income people coming in and buying for Christmas."

At Thrift Store Ministries in York, sales are up "tremendously" in the last month, said Helen Parrish, who volunteers at the store, which helps needy families in the York school district.

"A lot of people say they are shopping here because they can't afford to shop anywhere else," Parrish said.