Meet the People- Crown Pawnbrokersposted Tuesday, March 22 by Allyson Behnke, Freelance Writer
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Meet Jessica Barakat. She owns Crown Pawnbrokers.
“Have you ever been to a pawn shop before?” Jessica Barakat asked as I walked to the back of Crown Pawnbrokers, a fourth generation family business found on 14th St.. It was, in fact, my first time at Crown Pawnbrokers and my attention went from the instruments that adorned the walls to the jewelry in the glass cases to the antiques around the store and then, of course, back to Jessica. As she showed me a 1950’s photograph of her grandfather standing in the front of the store, I realized that many shops have come and gone over the years, but Crown Pawnbrokers has been a small business staple since 1939. We talked about the family business, some of her favorite local businesses and why the community should think local first.
AB – Whats the difference between a pawnshop and a thrift store?
J – Some thrift stores do consignment. We don’t do consignment, we give people money up front. We buy things from people and we also do loans. Its the loan part that totally makes us different form a thrift store. Such as if you are a musician and have a guitar and you don’t have a gig for a couple of weeks we can pawn your guitar. Its a hundred dollar loan, and it’s $5 a month to come back get it. So it’s basically like a storage unit and we hold onto it. We do a four month loan here. Lots of our business is doing loans for people.
AB – So if I have a couch?
J – No couches. It’s the city so we have limited room. We mostly do jewelry and a lot of musical instruments. A LOT. We also do electronic systems, game systems, and tools too. No computers and no bikes.
AB – What is a regular day like?
J – Well you never know. Monday’s and Fridays are the craziest days. I guess it is because of the weekends. You never know what is going to come in. You never know if something cool is going to come by, or who needs a loan on something. I’d say that about 70% of the people who come through the door are regular customers. We know them by name, they have been coming here for generations. We also get a lot of different people, especially on the weekends we get walk in traffic just looking around. We have a lot of stuff people love to see like older cameras large format, double lens and people still want to buy VCRs here and there.
As she said this, I noticed that there was an entire glass case behind her was filled only with cameras and lenses. Jessica informed me that they use to deal with a lot of 35mm, but then, just as quickly as the mega stores switched to digital they started seeing digital cameras and now they have a lot of both. We discussed that they see a lot of creative types that walk through the door including photography students and musicians due to their proximity to the 9:30 club and other local music venues in the area.
AB – Tell me more about the music instrument and camera business. What kind of instruments and cameras do you see come through? What do you usually have?
J – We do huge musical instrument business because we are the only place in DC where you can get everything you need; percussion, strings, microphones and all the different things you need. With the 9:30 club (right up the street) we get a lot of musicians who come through here before their shows and on the weekends. Also, lots of student start with the 35mm cameras and photographers are always looking for something, a great lens or camera. We have a mix of old and new.
AB – What is one of favorite places you like to frequent here in Mid City?
J – I like the local businesses, the little hole in the wall places more than larger companies. I like the cafe down on T St, College Cafe, its really cute and in one of the little brownstones. I’d rather help local people, it is part of having a small business. I obviously love Marvin, St Ex and Rice. I love Rice, Rice is delicious. I just don’t get to go out that much (she motioned to her pregnant belly, she is due in May) I use to go out. I also like Pulp across the street – Rue 14 has really cool clothes.
AB – Tell me about some of the more random or awesome finds that have come through the door.
J – I like the interesting things that we can take in and have on the shelf for ‘X’ amount of years. Items that that are always going to be cool, always going to be nice, like the sitar that is up there. (she points) I thought that was awesome when the girl brought it in. I don’t think it will ever sell but it is something that is just awesome. (It adds to the atmosphere of the store) We also will buy really random things. Sometimes people sell their gold teeth when they don’t need them any more.
AB – That is wild
J – Its gold. You pay for it. We get all sorts of funky things like the e-readers and the kindles. I never thought we would deal with them, but we’ve gone through quite a few.
AB – When should people think to shop at to Crown Pawnbrokers?
J – When people are thinking outside the box. ‘I need a stereo’, or ‘I need something and I don’t want to go to Target. I just want to get something quick and easy and I know it will work’ We test everything here out. Especially with Cameras and things like that. Why not right? I can’t sell it unless it works, you know? We do guarantees on things.
AB – Why should DC residences Think Local First?
J – Obviously to keep the money in the neighborhood. There are too many big businesses coming in. I keep hearing about Wallmart is going to pop in, and Target. We were really nervous when Target came out but Target is totally different, it didn’t hurt our business at all. And to keep it creative, and I think that this area has become so creative with the stores that have opened up. Have you been to Miss Pixies?
AB – I love Miss Pixies
J – And that is just furniture.
AB – What has been the most rewarding experience working at Crown Pawnbrokers?
J – Especially when I first came in I realized how much my mother is guidance to so many people come in here when they are going threw really bad times. When they need to buy a house and they need a lot of money or they just need a little something till friday, or they had a catastrophe in their family, there are so many things that happen to people, sickness, things like that. My mother has known people for generations. She just talks to people.
AB – So you genuinely feel that you help out members of the community?
J- Absolutely. Everyday. Constantly everyday. It is when someone comes in and wants to buy an engagement ring and they only have a couple hundred dollars. You can’t go anywhere else. It is something used and we can find them exactly the thing. And they didn’t think they would get anything and they ended up with something great. We gift it up, box it up real nice. It happens everyday for so many different things on so many different levels. I watched my grandfather do it, I watched my mom do it everyday. My brother and I do it everyday too.