Rick Harrison and his Gold & Silver Pawn Shop crew recently hit another new height, if you can believe it. They already had become unlikely television superstars, with Pawn Stars celebrating its second anniversary on the History Channel this month. Then, in late June, the show officially became the highest rated series on cable.
Harrison owns the shop with his father, Richard, and runs it with help from son, Corey, and lovable sidekick Chumlee. They’re all characters, but a good chunk of the credit for the show’s success has to go to the charismatic Harrison and his encyclopedic knowledge of everything from vintage firearms to rock posters.
As a child, Harrison was stricken with grand mal seizures that often left him bedridden for weeks. He spent this time reading everything he could get his hands on, and that insatiable thirst for knowledge never left him. Trained in the pawn industry since he was 13, he dropped out of high school and went into business with his father. Their pawnshop on Las Vegas Boulevard has become such a tourist attraction that, any time Gold & Silver is open, a line can be seen snaking around the building, with fans eager to catch a glimpse of their favorite characters. In fact, on a recent day, they drew a record 7,550 visitors. To top it off, Harrison’s new book, License to Pawn: Deals, Steals, and My Life at the Gold & Silver (Hyperion,$24), is climbing the charts.
Does it ever get to the point where all that traffic actually hampers your business?
We’re still pawning a lot of stuff. A lot of my local regular customers have been perturbed at the line sometimes, but we’re trying to work around that. Right now, anyone with a local ID can go straight to the front of the line, and if you have anything to pawn or sell, you can go straight to the front of the line. It’s growing pains. By this time next year I’ll have a separate entrance for people selling and pawning stuff.
Do you think your success can be sustained?
I think the show’s got legs. We just signed for another two years, so it’s going to be on at least that long. No television shows last forever, I realize that. I’m hoping I can turn it into other things. I just had a book that came out and it’s No. 22 on The New York Times best-seller list at the moment, so that’s doing well. I’m going to ride it out and see how it goes.
On the show, it seems you know everything about everything. Does the History Channel help with those facts?
I really am that nerdy. I mean, this is how bad I am: I never watch television, I read every night. And I never listen to any music past 1979. A year and a half ago John Mayer called my manager up and they handed me the phone and said, “Hey, John Mayer wants to talk to you,” and I’m going, “Who’s John Mayer?”
How do other pawnshop owners feel about your success?
They absolutely love me. As a matter of fact, traffic in every pawnshop in the United States is up 40 percent because of it. They made me Pawnbroker of the Year because of it. Believe it or not, there’s a big convention that 12,000 people show up at every year.
What has been your favorite find of all time?
It’s got to be my Super Bowl rings. I have four of them now.
How much do they go for?
The best one I have is the 2001 Patriots ring. It’s probably worth around $50,000, but the fact of the matter is, I don’t want to sell it, so I priced it for $100,000. But if someone is stupid enough to pay me that much money, I’ll sell it.
Can you imagine a time when you’ll leave the shop and let your son take over?
I don’t know if I’ll do that. Maybe I will. Over the past few years, my life has flipped upside down. Everything has really changed a lot, so I’m still trying to get it all figured out. I’m hoping to retire one day. I think it would be the greatest thing in the world. I would love to go to school. It would be really cool since I didn’t even go to high school. I’m assuming five or six years from now, if everything works out right, I’ll just go to engineering school and tinker in the garage on the weekends and write a book every once in a while.