I sold my camera at a pawn shop — and what I saw inside was fascinating.
Earlier this weekend, I did something I never thought I’d have to do in my life — go to a pawn shop. Last summer I freelanced as a photographer, and now that I’ve transitioned into the tech as a front-end engineer, I felt like it was time to part ways with my camera and get some quick cash.
I rode my bike down 2 miles of Utica Avenue here in Brooklyn, and came across what you’d expect — a big glitzy sign covered in flashing dollar signs with the words “PAWN HERE”, and doors that could hold against a mob. Inside, on both sides of a room that hadn’t been painted in the better part of a decade were two massive glass cases filled row to row with used sneakers. Imagine the type of high end pressurized case you’d keep luxury jewelry in, except here we’re seeing sneakers in vibrant colors, all pristinely cleaned. Jordans, Yeezys, Sneezies, and another dozen names I couldn’t begin to tell you. Each sneaker had a security beacon and yellow price tag on it with the year of the sneaker and it’s condition. On the metal benches facing the displays were a mix of guys in gold chains and fly shoes, either staring off into space or at the sneakers. Just sitting. Waiting. Wishing.
I had just stumbled into the sneaker-head resale community.
Going up to the thick-paned window separating the cashier from the sneaker room, I couldn’t help but ask her why they were all waiting in here and not buying anything. She told me that they were ‘sneaker-vultures’. When you’re low on cash, you bring in your top-quality sneakers and pawn them, or put them on loan for cash. Once you’re good, you come back and buy them back at an outrageous interest rate. No kidding — on one side of the wall they have a chart showing how much the dollar value of your shoe would cost to buyback. A shoe valued at $600 could net you $830 in quick cash, but you buy it back you’d have to pay a minimum APR of 70%. Whoa. And while those rates are for all goods, sneakers are what keep the place going.
So what the sneaker-vultures do is wait there and buy sneakers off you when you come in — for way less than you’d get from the cashier, but at least you’d get cash without the fear of your kicks being trapped behind a mountain of interest. Still feeling the love for those kicks? These guys have their own system where they’ll put yours on loan and give you cash, just like the pawn shop.
So why’d the cashier let them hang out and cut into her business? Just like a casino, the house always wins. The sneaker-vultures almost always sell the goods to the pawn shop for one reason or another, and it’s a rotation of similar sneakers coming through on a daily basis. And when a new edition of a sneaker comes out: it’s Christmas. Everyone comes in trying to cut a deal for the older ones. According to Forbes, the sneaker resale market is a billion dollar industry, and for the amount of sneakers I saw on that wall, I’d have to believe them.
As for me? I got utterly ripped off on the camera. I’m embarrassed to say for how much. I even brought in an Amazon screenshot to show how much I paid for it to up the leverage, but no cigar. It’s all percentage based off the initial purchase price. With a wallet feeling heavier but still feeling a bit defeated, I hopped on my bike and made the journey home. As I’m slowly trimming the fat from my life and living industriously and frugal, these are all lessons for the par.
As I was walking out, I couldn’t help but notice that the cashier was covered in half a dozen bracelets, two gold watches, and an Apple Watch. I totally got hustled, but hell, at least I got a good article out of it.
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I’m Alexander Green — a web developer & designer from Brooklyn, New York. Check out my blog for design & photography stuff. It’s great!