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Pawn in Sixty Seconds

The Pasternacks have always been willing to lend a hand. Or a foot...

Charles Kaufman worked for the Pasternacks eleven years before taking over Al's Loan and Luggage at 2134 Larimer. He remembers customers becoming so confused by which store was which that they'd wander into the wrong shop and make payments on nonexistent loans. The clerks pocketed the money anyway.

"Oh, it was rough," Kaufman says. "Back then, it was mostly suits, and if the customers didn't have the suits wrapped up, they'd snatch them away. 'How much they offer you? Twelve bucks? We'll give you fifteen.' Boy, they gave us trouble. You have no idea."

Yet Pasternack held its own. Saul was the best sidewalk pitchman on Pawnshop Row, and Kaufman ran a close second; the brothers hired him straight from high school. Saul was so worried about losing his gifted protegé that he practically staked out Union Station for the day Kaufman would return from World War II.

"I got out on a Friday, and I was back at work on Monday," Kaufman recalls.

The brothers were aggressive, but they were also ethical: They always gave customers a chance to buy back their merchandise, no matter how long it took.

"You can't be a one-way son of a bitch," Kaufman explains. "If you have it, you give it back to them. The customer is more important than what's in the showcase. Saul was a square guy. That's how we had the trade. People trusted us."

"Look at it this way," Fred says. "If a guy needed money -- if times were tough, he was down on his luck, he needed $50 for a week's groceries -- he couldn't go to a bank. He couldn't wait around for them to approve his loan. He'd starve to death. He needed that money now. So where did he go? He went to people like my dad and my uncle. That's how they always considered themselves: poor man's bankers."

But if you heard the brothers talk, you'd think they were in the poorhouse.

"They used to cry all the time: 'Oh, it's dead. No one's coming. Business is terrible,'" Fred recalls. "But they cried all the way to the bank. They could have owned the city of Denver at one time. They had money when people didn't know how to spell 'money.' They were like millionaires. My dad had a car when he was eighteen! That's like owning a jet plane today."

Yet whenever anyone asked Sam what his line of work was, he always replied: "Jeweler."

"In my dad's mind, it was a low-life business," Fred says. "Maybe because of the people who went in. Maybe because it was used merchandise. I never knew. But he never wanted me to be a pawnbroker. He always wanted me to be something better than he was, like a doctor. But I didn't want to be a doctor. I wanted to be a businessman. I wanted to be a pawnbroker."

Fred eventually got his wish, but not the way he wanted: In 1962, Sam had a heart attack and died. The next day, Fred arrived at the pawnshop to replace his father.


So this guy walks into Pasternack and says he needs ten bucks. Fred asks him what he has for collateral, and the man says: "My teeth."

"I'll be back for them tomorrow," the guy says. "I promise."

"All right," Fred sighs. "Go around back and wash them out in the sink."

The guy heads to the back and washes his teeth out in the sink. Fred slips them into a plastic bag, locks them in a safe, hands over the ten bucks. The next day, the guy collects his teeth as promised.

A week later, the same guy arrives with the same teeth and asks for the same deal. Fred rolls his eyes and hands him the cash.

This continues for almost five years, as regular as clockwork.

"Can you imagine?" Fred recalls. "I must have made $1,000 interest on those teeth. But he needed $10, so I took them."

One week, the guy doesn't return. A month passes, then two months. Fred thinks the guy must have died, so he props up the choppers in the display window with a sign: "Times are tough. Make offer."

Several days later, an old woman waddles by the store, scowls at the display, swings open the door.

"I want to try on the bottoms."

"Ma'am," Fred explains. "They only go as a pair."

"I want to try them on anyway."

Fred hands her the bottoms and without washing them off, the woman slaps the teeth into place, then swivels her jaw.

"Oooo. Pretty good. How much?"

"Tell you what," Fred says. "For ten bucks, I'll throw in the tops."

The woman says: "Here's your money."


A few things about Fred.

He loves to cut weeds. Any time of the day or night, whether he's dressed in jeans or a suit, he'll spot an errant leaf, unkempt shrub or homely plant, reach for his tools and hack away.

"Once I was driving down the street, and I saw him standing on top of his truck trimming the city's trees," recalls Fred's ex-wife, Mona. "All the bushes around our house always looked brand-new. It's like his therapy or something."

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