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In early January over two and a half million people tuned in to watch Hardcore Pawn, a show about the drama that plays out inside a Detroit-based pawn shop. The hit series, which airs on TruTV on Tuesday nights, follows the Gold family (father Les, his son Seth and daughter Ashley) as they manage their store, American Jewelry and Loan, located just off of 8 Mile Road in Detroit. Reality television has found a new darling covering those who buy and sell second-hand merchandise, with popular shows like American Pickers, Storage Wars and Pawn Stars hard to miss on cable each evening.
Viewers of Hardcore Pawn, now in its fifth season, have no doubt spotted a winged helmet and a framed Wolverine jersey in the office of Seth Gold, one of the stars of the show, who happens to be a Michigan graduate.
As a fan of the series and someone who delves into Michigan football memorabilia and history, I was thrilled when Seth invited down to the shop to talk about the business, the show and even about his beloved Michigan Wolverines.
GoBlueWolverine (GBW): So explain to folks how things work at American Jewelry and Loan.
Seth Gold: “What we are, essentially, is a bank for people without bank accounts. In essence, we are just a banker. Period. These are often folks that don’t have a bank account which means they don’t have anywhere to go besides the pawn shop. I’ll ask you—out of ten people, how many do you think come back to get their merchandise?”
“Most people would say ten to twenty percent, and it’s actually like eighty to ninety percent.”
GBW: So I think a people assume a lot of your merchandise that comes through your door is stolen. Do you have to submit a police report for items over a certain value?”
Seth Gold: “No, we submit a police report for everything. People think pawn shops [have] hot merchandise but that’s not how it works. First of all we take your ID and we take your thumbprint and forward that to the police. There’s a whole host of areas where you can unload that kind of stuff. And here’s the thing—most of my customers come in for loans. They don’t sell there stuff outright. So at an 80% redemption rate, I want to help you out, if you’re going to redeem your stuff I want to loan you more. The more I loan you the more I get back.”
GBW: [The store recently hired former popular Detroit Red Wing Darren McCarty]. What does McCarty do for you?
Seth Gold: “Stock guy, sales guy—wherever we need him. He’s a really good worker and I’m glad he’s part of our team. He’ll be showing up in a couple episodes.”
GBW: I’ve read somewhere that based on the activity in the pawn shop, you are a pretty good economic barometer. The University of Michigan produces a widely used consumer confidence index each month--should Wall Street be polling you to get the temperature of the economy?
Seth Gold: [laughs] “Definitely. We’re commodity traders at a street level. Period. When my loans are increasing and retail is decreasing, there’s a problem. It makes sense, right? It’s simple. Every day there’s a study going on my showroom floor. “
GBW: So let’s get into your U of M background. You’re Michigan graduate, right?
Seth Gold: “Yes, I’m a 2003 graduate of LS&A [Literature, Science and Arts] and I was on a pre-med track. Ultimately my whole life I wanted to be a doctor and to help people. Then, my senior year, after my Chem, Bio, and Orgo exams, I didn’t sleep for like three days. I thought, ‘I don’t like what I’m doing. If I don’t like this now I’m going to be in big trouble.’ So I came here [to the pawn shop] for two years after I graduated and I was real quiet for two years, just learning the business. I was working in the back and just doing whatever I needed to do. Then after two years went by I was like, ‘OK, we’re going to make some changes.’
GBW: You were a big Michigan fan before you went to school in Ann Arbor?
Seth Gold: “I’ve always been a Michigan guy.”
GBW: On Hardcore Pawn every once in a while you can see a winged helmet and a frame Michigan jersey in your office, tell me about those items
Seth Gold: “If you watch the first season, the helmet is always behind me. Then they’ve been moving out because of the rights and stuff, so it ended up getting pushed out [of the camera shot]. I was really upset because when you walk into my office you should be able to see it. But there are still glimpses all over the place of my Michigan stuff.”
GBW: So are you a collector of Michigan memorabilia?
Seth Gold: “I’ve got some cool stuff, absolutely. Now that we have the show people bring in their [U-M] stuff because they know I’m a big Michigan fan. A guy came in one day and tells me he’s got something I won’t believe. He has a lamp made out of a Michigan helmet and it’s signed by Bo and Woody Hayes. But I’m wondering if Woody Hayes would actually sign a Michigan helmet. I asked for the certificate of authenticity, because if I’m going to invest in it I need to make sure that’s Woody Hayes’s actual signature. He said didn’t have it, so I asked him how much he wanted for it. He wanted one hundred grand [laughs]. Give me a break. But people are bringing all kinds of cool pieces all the time.”
GBW: I know you get championship rings in the shop now and again, how often do you see college rings like from Michigan or Michigan State? Have any Buckeye gold pants made it in to the shop?
Seth Gold: No Michigan State rings, but I do have Ohio State rings. No gold pants though [laughs].
GBW: Do you try to make it out to the Big House for games?
Seth Gold: “I was at the night game! So hell yeah. But I still work on Saturdays so it’s hard for me. I’ve got a TV in my office that I watch the games on. After the [Notre Dame] game, they interviewed Darius Fleming for the local Notre Dame paper. They asked him about his favorite show, he said Hardcore Pawn. So I actually reached out to him and said, ‘Real rough game over in Ann Arbor’ [laughs].
For more of this article and Michigan athletics, be sure to check out this month's issue of Go Blue Wolverine Magazine.