Gallup Goodies – A Visit to an Old West Pawn Shop

Gallup, New Mexico sits right on the famous Route 66.  While you’re getting your kicks, don’t forget to go to a pawn shop.  Gallup is sometimes called the “Indian Capital of the World” and a pawn shop is a great place to get a taste of the Old West and to look for Navajo, Hopi and Zuni treasures.

These are not your run of the mill, someone was down on their luck or wanted to go gambling, pawn shops.  They are a window into another culture. Richardson’s Trading Company and Cash Pawn has been operating in Gallup since 1913.  The shop is packed with treasures; leather saddles, silver spurs, hand woven woolen rugs and lots of Indian jewelry.  But there’s more to the shop than meets the eye.  Nuzzled in among the rooms of merchandise is another room- a vault, where “live pawn” items are stored.  A manager explained to me how the system works.

Bradley Gordon's photo of a famous Gallup pawn shop.

Richardson’s Pawn Shop is a treasure chest of Old West memorabilia. Photo by Bradley Gordon.

Someone brings in an item to pawn.  In exchange for the item, they are given cash and a ticket which includes a time limit.  The owner has until the date on the ticket to pay back the money and recover the item. If they don’t, the store can sell the item. The stuff you see in the shop is pawn which, for one reason or another, was not retrieved.

But people do not just bring items to pawn shops just because they’re in need of fast cash.  The pawn shops serve as safe, secure, climate-controlled storage units – a way to keep your saddle in good shape during the off-season.  A safe place to store your jewelry.

They are like communal storage units or safety deposit boxes, that also happen to offer easy access to cash. It’s a way of doing things which predates a lot of modern financial systems.

bunky's pickle's photo of Indian rugs.

And who wouldn’t want one of these? Photo by bunky’s pickle.

I know what your thinking.  Knowing how the system works, how could anyone bring themselves to buy anything.  Wouldn’t you feel like you were taking advantage of someone’s misfortune and robbing them of their treasures? I used to feel that way too, but now I have a different perspective.  The pawn shops serve as an alternative to modern banking.  A lucky traveler who purchases a Navaho rug or a turquoise and silver bracelet in a Gallup pawn shop will probably treasure it forever, will surely remember where they got it, and will probably spend some time thinking about the person who made it and the person who had to pawn it.  This is in sharp contrast to Wall Street fat cats and bankers, who also take advantage of people’s hard times, but show few signs of thinking about or appreciating the people who’s treasures they rob.  And of course, the pawn system is much less predatory than your typical “pay day loan” place and tax payers will never be called upon to bail out a pawn shop that is “too big to fail”.

So, pop a few Tony Hillerman audio-books in your car and head to Gallup! Happy shopping.

Published in Things to Do, USA

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Seasoned traveler, avid reader, over-eater, clumsy but determined hiker and wannabe Spanish-speaker.

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