Owner Lee Zimmerman behind the counter at 123 Pawn Shop, 1500 E. Isaacs Ave.

Fans of the long-lost gold standard for currency might find the goods arrayed on shelving and racks and in display cases at 123 Pawn Shop  relatable.

The guns, jewelry, musical instruments, electronics — up to date, please — and tools that constitute the most prominent items for sale at the shop at 1500 Isaacs Ave. also represent the most readily bought and sold items a person might own.

But there’s an unpredictable side to the shop as well, which is part of the appeal to Lee Zimmerman, who’s worked in the business since he was in high school and the shop was on West Alder Street. He’s owned 123 Pawn the last 16 years, having bought the shop from the previous owner after the move to Isaacs.

“It’s different every day,” Zimmerman said. “You never know what’s going to walk through the door, good or bad.”

Oddest item?

A 1950s era telephone booth, fully operational save for being disconnected from a landline.

Zimmerman said the owner brought the booth in, not to secure a loan, but to secure the goodwill of a spouse-to-be who didn’t want it and a few other items as a part of the package.

Zimmerman bought the booth outright, as he does to make up about half of 123 Pawn’s inventory. The other half is more what might be expected: items brought in to secure a loan, but that the owner couldn’t afford to or didn’t retrieve.

Zimmerman said owners come back for about 90% of property brought in for loan purposes, and he notes his business is keen to work with owners to that end, even if they need a little flexibility to make repayment.

The typical term of a pawnshop loan is 90 days, and items brought in for outright sale must be held 30 days before hitting the sales floor, a small piece of insurance against goods being moved by someone other than their rightful owner.

Zimmerman said hot goods are a rarity, with problems surfacing only two or three times a year. Most stolen goods head immediately out of town, he said, adding that years of experience help make obvious people who shouldn’t be trying to sell items.

Firearms, which are a prominent part of the inventory at the shop, present their own set of opportunities and challenges.

For the first month of construction on Isaacs, firearms sales were a big boost because of demand spurred by a pending change in state law regarding semi-automatic rifles. Since Initiative 1639 took effect, though, business has been quieter, Zimmerman said.

He supplements used and pawned guns with new firearms, and he aims for a selection of expected brands such as Glock with less common brands such as Girsan and Bersa, which help differentiate 123 Pawn Shop from other dealers in the area.

Selling firearms generates a lot of work for Zimmerman and employee Tony Aveni, with about a third of their hours devoted to background checks and paperwork for transfers.

That expertise has given 123 Pawn Shop a way to give back, as it donates time to do transfers for groups such as Friends of the NRA and Pheasants Forever when they offer firearms as raffle items.

“We try to support our community as much as we can,” Zimmerman said.

That interest also can be seen in the décor of the shop, which inside and out features the work of muralist Johnny “No Land” Johnson.


Alasdair Stewart can be reached at or 509-526-8311.

Alasdair Stewart is the managing editor - operations at the Union-Bulletin. He worked for the U-B from 1994 to 1999, when he moved to New Hampshire. He returned to the Union-Bulletin in 2005.

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