Each day about 4,000 people visit the Gold and Silver Pawn Shop on the Las Vegas Strip. No, it's not a sign of the recession. Since "Pawn Stars" debuted on the History Channel in 2009 it has become one of the network's highest-rated shows, making the Gold and Silver Pawn Shop a popular Vegas attraction.
People flock to the store, sometimes forming a line at the door, for a chance to get an item appraised or to see one of the stars of "Pawn Stars" (Rick Harrison, his son Corey "Big Hoss," his dad Richard "Old Man" and Austin "Chumlee" Russell).
"We never thought we were going to get this huge, never. I was hoping to get a season or two and help business out a little bit. I didn't think I was ever going to be on television in 130 countries," said Rick Harrison during a break from filming. He opened the shop with his father in 1988.
While the guys still show up to work at the shop almost every day, they now spend most of their time filming or working behind the scenes. Even without the men of "Pawn Stars" working the floor on a daily basis, the shop has plenty of its own appeal. It's packed with thousands of unique items including rare jewelry,artwork from famous artists including Salvador Dali and Pablo Picasso and even a Congressman's chair, an item that normally isn't accessible to the public. In addition to being filled with items from the past, the shop itself is of historical significance. The edifice was built in 1934 and is one of the oldest buildings on the Strip. Since the show started, Harrison has gone from purchasing about 100 items a month to more than 1,000.
"There are tons of different things that walk in here, and I really do buy this stuff. You can walk around the showroom floor and see," said Harrison.
Some items featured on the show are now hanging in the shop like the framed Roy Rogers shirt that Harrison purchased in the "Cannons and Klingons" episode of "Pawn Stars." There's no telling how long an item will be in the shop. Things are purchased and sold every day, but that's part of the fun of visiting. You never know what you're going to find. One of Harrisons' most interesting recent acquisitions is a set of Jimmy Hendrix photos. He purchased them from Ron Raffaelli, Hendrix's personal photographer.
"This guy never really marketed his photos. He basically just realized, 'hell I have a lot of stuff here, I should do something with it.' So I just bought some of the coolest pictures of Jimmy Hendrix that you've ever seen in your life," said Harrison.
Other noteworthy items in the shop include a "Six Million Dollar Man" figurine still in its original packaging and several Super Bowl rings.
"I love the Super Bowl rings just because why would you train so hard to be that good at something and then sell it," said Gold and Silver Pawn Shop compliance officer Andy Spyer.
Spyer is in charge of security and providing the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department with a report of all the items that come into the shop to ensure that none of them were stolen. Along with overseeing security, he works as both a salesperson and point of contact for anyone who comes in the store. He's been working at the shop for a little more than a year.
"I'm always surprised at how involved in the shop the guys are. People come thinking, oh they're never here, they're famous now, and the guys show up to work every day, Monday through Friday. The Old Man's here when we open the shop just to make sure we open on time," said Spyer.
Spyer walks around the store interacting with the crowds of customers that visit on a daily basis and helping guests when needed. Like many of the people who watch the show, some of Spyer's favorite items in the shop are historical pieces like a Samurai sword that dates back to 1490.
"That's a favorite just because I'm a huge history fan," said Spyer.
Spyer's draw to the historical items is the same quality that Harrison believes make the show popular. Viewers like hearing the stories behind the items that come in and finding out what those items are worth. Harrison is the perfect guy for the job.
"Some people like Rick the Supernerd. I really am that nerdy guy. I read chemistry books and history books and science books, and I even read text books for fun. So that's me, but don't ask me anything about modern culture. I know nothing," said Harrison.
Harrison suffered from seizures as a child. Reading was a way to pass the time. When he was 8 years old and sick, Harrison used to read a book a day. Today that knowledge is a useful tool for his work. He's even started getting called the "blue collar historian."
Harrison pitched the show for four years to numerous production companies, and every time he got the same response, "no one wants to see a show about four fat guys in a pawn shop." Finally he got in touch with a product ion company that shared his vision for the show and the rest, as they say, is history, well in Harrison's case, the History Channel.
"I think people like to learn something. They like to learn it from their uncle who'll sit down and talk to them face to face instead of a college professor who sits there and looks down on you," said Harrison. "It's a lot easier to learn something when you're laughing while you're learning."
Tips for visiting Gold and Silver Pawn Shop
-- Caroline Fontein