He's not a reality show star, but he could be. Terry Jellison, owner of Caldwell Pawn, is the real deal--in every sense of the word. In the business since the 1970s and the owner of downtown Caldwell's last pawn shop, Jellison, 72, has pretty much seen it all. In fact, most of what he's seen is stacked to the ceiling in his 4,000-square-foot showroom.
"This is just what you see," said Jellison. "I've got another 4,000 square feet in the basement, the same amount of space on the second floor, plus there's a mezzanine and a number of upstairs offices in the back."
As Jellison was getting set to turn the key on his Main Street pawn shop for the last time (the business closed July 12), he sat down with Boise Weekly to talk about his years in the business, some unique customers and items, and his plans for a "sale of the century" to clear out all of what's left in early August.
How did you get into this business?
After serving in the Air Force, I worked for Sears and then a microwave company. And I started collecting stamps as an investment. I finally quit the electronics business, and opened up my own stamp and coin shop in Spokane. I sold that and opened up the Kootenai Silver and Loan Company in Coeur d'Alene. But my wife and I moved down here to be closer to her father, so I moved down here with nine truckloads of items to open up a new shop. That was in 1991.
What was downtown Caldwell like at the time?
There was another pawn shop around the corner, and people would come here if they didn't like what they offered. But that business burned to the ground and it's gotten worse since. When I moved here, my taxes on the building were $1,100 a year. Now they're more than $5,500 a year. Have you heard of urban renewal? It's a license for the government to steal from you.
[The phone rang, the first of a number of calls during the interview. Almost all of the callers were looking for an air conditioner].
That guy's an optimist. I sold all of my air conditioners on the first 100-degree day.
Air conditioners aside, I'm guessing that your top sellers have been guns.
You can get a decent shotgun: $150-$200.
But I don't see any handguns.
President Obama sold them all for me. As soon as he started talking about gun control, all that did was double the number of guns in private hands.
How small do some of your pawns get?
I'm the only guy who does the small stuff. People will bring in 20 or 30 DVDs just so they can get some gas money--$10, maybe $20.
I must say that your pawn shop is a little overwhelming. It appears that you have a little bit of everything.
And a lot of everything else. Hundreds of computers, musical instruments, camping gear, digital cameras, carpet cleaners, collector clocks, old-fashioned sewing machines, I've got one of those old-fashioned typewriters that would be perfect for you.
Have you ever had to turn someone down because they were strung out, hungover or angry?
Ninety-five percent of them are good. Occasionally, I get somebody who makes a butt of himself. I had a guy come in with a $180 ticket, saying he wanted to pick up his rifle. I told him that he was four months overdue and he owed me $240. He was outraged and said he wasn't paying any more than $180. I told him it was worth $450 and he was pretty stupid for turning down $240. He whipped out the $240 pretty quick.
Have you ever had to defend yourself physically?
A guy came in to buy a handgun, but I told him I was selling it online for $400. He got angry and said, "I'll give you $200 cash." I said, "This is why I don't deal with assholes like you." He said, "You can't call me an asshole. I ought to whip your ass." I said, "Why don't you give it a try." He was 28, I was about 67. He looked at me and said, "I'll give you $400." But I said, "I don't think so. I'll go put it online, starting bids at $200." It sold for $540. Anyway, he didn't get it.
But you have thousands and thousands of items here. How will you sell all of what's left?
At auction. Originally, it was going to be two days, Aug. 2-3. I figured out they can't do it in two days. So, we're going to add Aug. 9-10. I'm sure some of the other pawn shops will come to look for bargains, but mostly it will be individuals and it will be a really good deal. Are you sure I can't interest you in that typewriter?