Jewelry-pawn shops provide loans, ‘escapes’ in pandemic

Teddy Birt, owner of Mid-Atlantic Jewelry and Pawn in the Carrolls Corner Shopping Center, wipes down an electric guitar that was recently pawned. Delaware State News/Marc Clery

Update: With an amendment to Gov. John Carney’s state of emergency declaration on April 6, pawn shops are now physically closed and must conduct all business online or by telephone.

DOVER — While the two Mid-Atlantic Jewelry and Pawn shops in Dover have been forced to evolve in the face of the coronavirus pandemic, the businesses have remained busy in providing both loan relief for those who have lost their jobs and selling items such as DVDs, which give their customers and families a little escape.

When it comes to being labeled an “essential” business, Teddy Birt, who owns both Mid-Atlantic Jewelry and Pawn Shop locations, said he has no doubt that his shops at 1255 S. State St. (Carrolls Corner) and 3050 N. Dupont Highway provide vital and much-needed services in these uncertain times.

“I think our industry is going to help some people get through some hard times,” Mr. Birt said. “I think we already do, and I think keeping our industry open is going to be essential for the local economy.

“We’re hoping everybody in our industry is considered essential, because I think we’re all going to help and I believe everybody in our industry is helping our customers get through by waiving late fees, helping with insurance payments and helping customers pick their items up so that they don’t lose anything through this ordeal that we’re going through.”

While the retail sections of Mr. Birt’s stores have been closed to the public since Gov. John Carney’s stay-at-home order, his full-time staff of six employees is still busy filling online orders for items such as DVDs, video game systems, games, guitars, TVs, and just about anything else that can keep individuals and families entertained through the coronavirus pandemic.

“DVDs, game sets and video games are hot sellers right now,” said Mr. Birt. “People know they’re going to be locked in for a little bit.”

While he is happy that his stores can offer some sense of escape, he is also glad he can provide loans that might help some Delawareans who have lost their jobs find a way to get through the outbreak.

“We’ve been doing a lot of loans,” Mr. Birt said. “People who have been coming in and wanting to purchase (items in the store) have been very cooperative and understanding that we shut our retail part down. We have a really strong online retail store. We put stuff on eBay, so our eBay store’s been busy and that’s going to help us keep our employees. We haven’t had to do any layoffs and I haven’t had to shorten anybody’s hours, and we’re hoping to keep it that way.

“It’s definitely different for everybody. We were able to shut the retail part of our business down but keep the loan part open for people who are going to need money since there are a lot of people out of work right now.”

The signs of the times are obvious upon walking into one of Mr. Birt’s shops — a bottle of hand sanitizer and a package of disinfectant wipes await.

Travis Friedman, one of Mr. Birt’s employees, is just happy to still be working.

“Like everybody else, I was worried and wasn’t sure what was going to happen,” Mr. Friedman said. “I knew we’d still be able to do the online stuff side of things, but I wasn’t sure if we were going to be able to do the loans. I’m grateful to still have a job. It is satisfying.

“I do think we provide a good service, especially for a lot of folks who might have bad credit, or no credit and can’t get a credit card. I think we really fill the gap there.”

While the coronavirus hasn’t forced Mr. Birt to close his stores, he has had to make some small adjustments, such as shortened store hours and encouraging people to pay on their loans over the phone. For people picking up merchandise (they have been paying on), the business is waiving all late fees.

For Mr. Friedman, the past couple of weeks has been a little bit like watching one of those Sci-Fi DVDs they sell.

“It’s just the general uncertainty with what’s going on,” he said. “I’ve been keeping up on (the coronavirus pandemic) and it’s wild watching it spread and just the uncertainty of it all. I have a bunch of friends in the restaurant industry and a bunch of them just woke up without a job.

“That makes me happy that I still have a job to come to, but sad that so many others have been affected by this.”

Helpful Coronavirus links

Delaware Division of Health Coronavirus Page
CDC: About the Coronavirus Disease 2019
CDC: What to do if You Are Sick
Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center
AP News Coronavirus Coverage
Reopening Delaware: Resources for Businesses
Delaware Phase 2 guidance

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