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Retail shop to fill gap left by furniture store

Most local residents agree that Main Street needs new businesses. Peter McCarty brings one this spring - a pawn shop - to 117 N. Main, where River Falls Home Furnishings used to be.

"I'm shooting for June 1st for a grand opening," McCarty said. "I'm hoping to have it open before then. We'll probably be open six days a week with shortened hours on Saturday."

He hasn't decided exactly what to name the business yet. It may be River Falls Pawn & Jewelry, but he may leave "pawn" out of the title and instead hang a neon window sign that says it.

McCarty lives in the town of Troy. He's worked in restaurants and residential and commercial real estate.

The landlord-turned-shop-owner said he's burnt out on being a landlord and is ready for a change of pace. He used to do student housing but additional dorms have made that market's competition fierce.

McCarty plans to buy and sell jewelry, secondhand goods and coins at his new store, which he's in the process of remodeling.

He's owned the property between the Ben Franklin store and the St. Croix Valley Title Company for about a year. He plans to use about 3,000 square feet of the space for the two-level pawn shop.

McCarty divided the old furniture store into two spaces and will lease the space adjacent to the new pawn shop. He's looking to sell the other property to someone interested in developing it.

McCarty even has an offer on the table for it but said he and the potential buyer are negotiating about a sewer line that needs work.

The old furniture-store building has some unique features driving the interior design as McCarty works to install new flooring, paint, carpet and cabinets.

Floor-to-ceiling windows and a mezzanine (balcony-type upper level) give the space character but also limit options a bit.

The stuff

It will take a while to build up inventory, but McCarty plans to have stock available to people when the shop opens. He's researched several pawn shops in Eau Claire and talked to their owners about buying some of their excess to get him started.

He has some secondhand merchandise to put out, and he expects jewelry and coins to make up a big part of the business.

"You know pawn's the best place to buy jewelry," McCarty said. "Retail is too high."

He's also been collecting coins for about the past eight years and said he's "not that sophisticated" yet but will sell coins and collecting supplies.

He's learned enough to know that that the scarcer a coin is, the more value it has. Many people collect these days, and the hobby has grown more popular since the U.S. Mint began the new quarter program years ago.

"Each coin's got somewhat of a story," he said about collecting.

Besides coins and jewelry, McCarty anticipates that the pawn store may carry tools, electronics, leather coats, sporting goods and fishing equipment and guns.

"Guns are popular around here," he said.

Shoppers may also find things like car stereos, CDs or laptop computers. A pawn shop can include nearly anything of value, but McCarty envisions an uncluttered operation.

"I don't want a junky pawn store, I want it clean and upscale," he said.

The store

Contrary to popular belief, pawn shops are not a haven for stolen merchandise according to McCarty.

He said the real statistics don't support that theory: Only about 1% of stolen stuff ends up in a place like the one he's opening soon.

He points out that people have too many other and easier ways to fence hot items.

For example, E-Bay or flea markets give thieves an anonymous way to hawk their wares. Pawn-shop transactions require valid identification then the transaction gets recorded, too.

Typically, pawn shops serve people who need a quick, temporary cash loan or who want below-retail prices.

McCarty anticipates college students as customers and said, "Women are the biggest pawners."

The way it works: A person brings in something of value either to pawn it or sell it. Pawning essentially means the customer takes out a 30-day loan using the merchandise as collateral. If the owner doesn't return to either repay the loan or repawn the item, it becomes store property.

Customers can also sell items outright. McCarty said most things aren't worth what people think it will be, especially jewelry. It's the weight and precious-metal content that determines price, and pawn shops use a formula to calculate an item's "melt value."

A piece made of 18-karat gold is worth more than the same item made of 10-karat gold.

Customers get less from a pawn transaction than a sale because shop owners have to consider that they may not recoup the pawn money for a while. They also have to factor in how fast the item would sell and for how much.

McCarty uses TVs as an example. Except for plasma and other high-end sets, TVs don't bring much because people can buy them new and inexpensively at many retail places.

McCarty said he probably won't have any employees besides himself for a while. He laughs, saying that ultimately he'd like to sit with his jeweler's loop looking at coins and jewelry - once business picks up.