LAS VEGAS–What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas–unless you’re blogging about Las Vegas.
I’m out here in Sin City for the first time in ages. They tell me Bugsy is gone. So is Sammy, Frank and Dean. Now the big names up on the giant neon billboards on all these fancy new theme park hotels around town are for Carrot Top, Donny & Marie and Barry Manilow. Somewhere, Elvis is spinning in his grave.
The reason for this visit, however, is to interview the Pawn Stars. The No. 1 show on History Television is a huge draw on both sides of the border, with over 600,000 tuning in Tuesday in Canada and over eight million in the U.S. Put in perspective, more people in Canada watch Pawn Stars every week than Being Erica and Michael Tuesdays and Thursdays combined.
A group of international reporters, including a small group from Canada, were shuttled to the Gold and Silver Pawn Shop on the seedier outskirts of Vegas where the series takes place. You can find it by following the gun and sex show signs. Main stars Rick and Corey Harrison, “Old Man” Richard Harrison and goofy pal Chumlee were not on the premises–those interviews take place Wednesday–but several insiders gave the press a tour of the shop.
The Vegas pawn shop is like pawn shops everywhere. Filled with stuff people bring in either to “pawn”–unload at a fraction of its value for a secure loan in hopes of buying it back later with interest–or sell. The joint charges 13% interest with a 90-day term.
The difference is the value of the loot inside. There are Super Bowl rings (including one 2001 Patriots ring valued at $150,000), plenty of Rolex’s and other diamond and 18 kt gold watches (one priced at 32 grand), a 15th century samurai sword and a 1861 Enfield rifle (above).
There’s a fair bit of sports memorabilia, including a Babe Ruth baseball, Olympic medals and even an Argo pendant.
A lot of the watches and jewelry come from suckers who lost all their cash at the casinos and can’t come home empty handed. This series probably would not work in any other town.
There are also tons of Pawn Shop merch, including bobble heads of “Big Hoss” (Corey) and the others, a wall full of different kinds of Chumlee T-shirts and pails full of fridge magnets. Not all the gold in this pawn shop is vintage.
The series has already taped 155 episodes and four more seasons have been ordered. Before the series, the place drew about 50 customers a day. Now they estimated between 3000 and 5000 file through daily, making it, they claim, Las Vegas’ No. 1 tourist attraction.
History vice president Mary Donahue traveled from New York to meet the press at the event and figures the show’s broad appeal is due to the treasures brought in and the comedy provided by the four main characters. Plus, “everybody likes to see a good negotiation,” says Donahue. People trying to pawn off fakes are also a reason to watch, she figures, “part of the jeopardy of the show.”
As for spoil sports who say, “This is History?” Donahue makes no apologies. So it isn’t the Hitler Channel anymore, get over it. The broad history of the artifacts–plus owner Rick Harrison’s expert knowledge of a wide range of goodies–lives up to the network’s “History made every day” motto. Plus, well, you know, ratings are through the roof.