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More and more people are finding themselves living paycheck to paycheck in the greater Tampa Bay region. In some places, rent has doubled. The cost of everyday goods — like gas and groceries — keeps creeping up. All the while, wages lag behind and the affordable housing crisis looms. Amid cost-of-living increases, WUSF is focused on documenting how people are making ends meet.

Tampa area pawn shops are doing more business as people struggle with gas prices, inflation

A tan-colored building with a statue of a giant iguana on the roof has bright yellow signs reading PAWN and GOLD in front of it.
Daylina Miller
WUSF Public Media
Capital Pawn, near Busch Gardens, has seen business increase with inflation and gas prices at high levels.

Pawn shops around the country are doing the kind of business they haven’t seen since the 2008 financial crisis.

It’s 2 p.m. on a Thursday at A-Universal Pawn shop in Egypt Lake-Leto.

80s pop music is playing softly on the radio. Signed photos of Ben Affleck and Kevin Costner hang on the wall by the door, and guitars hover above glass jewelry cabinets.

Rick Evans, the shop owner, is talking with a regular customer about how to transform an earring into a belly ring for her.

After the busy rush subsides, his pawn shop is empty for about an hour.

Evans and his mother sit in matching gray recliners and drink coffee, as they do every Thursday together, to catch their breath before the next wave of customers.

Evans said he’s seen a lot of new faces in his shop lately, and heard a lot of talk about making ends meet.

“Everybody is talking about the rising prices, " Evans said. "They're talking about, you know, deciding whether or not they can keep their job because their gas prices doubled and they can't afford to go to work. And, sadly, these people are hurting.”

But pawn shops around the country are not. They're doing the kind of business they haven’t seen since the 2008 financial crisis.

Michael Goldstein is the treasurer of the National Pawn Association and owner of an eight store-pawn shop chain in Boston.

He’s a numbers guy and said even though inflation is the highest it's been in 40 years, it’s gas prices that are hurting his clientele most.

“The economic ebbs and flows of the stock market, they don't affect my customers," he said. "My customer is the guy holding the door at the Ritz, he's not the guy walking into the Ritz. So, he's not as invested in the stock market, as most middle and upper middle class people are.”

Goldstein said the key difference he's noticed this time compared to 2008 is that he hasn't seen middle-class business owners scrambling to pawn their items for cash.

But back in Tampa, that's not the case.

Joe Cacciatore has owned Capital Pawn for the last 25 years. This year he said he’s seen more gold and silver jewelry come into his shop than ever before.

“It's been unbelievable," Cacciatore said. "The folks that have been coming in are not just poor people, but they are wealthy people that are probably living over their means. And they're bringing heirlooms from their family. And more people are struggling to pay their bills.”

A man with white hair and goatee and wearing a thick gold chain sits behind a wood counter. Behind him is a neon sign that reads Capital Pawn.
Daylina Miller
WUSF Public Media
Capital Pawn owner Joe Cacciatore said he prices loans anywhere between $100 up to $20,000. But he also has items in his shop he deems "priceless."

Cacciatore said he tries to help people out when he can.

"I thought, really, the public eventually would run out of gold and silver, but my Lord," he said. "And they throw them on my desk, and I say, 'So what do you want to do? We need to sell.' I say, 'You're sure you don't want to pawn them and leave them to your [family]?' That's not enough. And, so, I give them the cash."

At A-Universal, Juan Garcia walks into Evans' store. The fiber optic cable installer carries a power drill and an armload of tools.

“A customer gave me these while I was working at his house," he told Evans.

Garcia, like many of Evans’ customers, is just trying to fill up his gas tank.

“My boss, he throws me some money for gas every now and then when I need it. So, I'm just trying to do this on my own, so I don't have to get it from him," Garcia said.

Evans isn’t big on buying tools — but jewelry is his store’s bread and butter. He said that because of the volatility of the last few years, pieces he sold during the height of the pandemic are coming back into his shop.

“When the pandemic came and they sent out the stimulus checks, people came in and bought gold," Evans said. "They bought diamonds, they bought things that they'd not had before. And, so, kind of what we're seeing is some of those things actually are coming back to us. And, so, it's an even exchange and so it works out.”

Evans tells Garcia to go down the road to another pawn shop that buys tools, where they might fetch a better price, giving Garcia the money he needs.

“You gotta pay for gas, you know. If it’s $10 a gallon, you still gotta pay. Or you walk. Or ride a bike. You gotta deal with it," Garcia said. "But other than that, it’s all good. It’s part of life, man.”

But Evans quickly comes around and tells Garcia that he’ll give him $40 if he can’t find anyone else to take the tools.

Tools in hand, Garcia drives away in his pickup truck, burning gas while looking for money to keep his tank full.

Jack Prator is the WUSF Rush Family Radio News intern for summer of 2022.