Years ago, Matt Brislawn said, he could walk diagonally across an intersection in downtown Vancouver and never even see a car.
“It was just a ghost town,” said Brislawn, owner of pawnshop Briz Loan & Guitar at 506 Washington St. “Things have changed. Downtown’s hopping.”
Open six days a week, the brick pawnshop specializes in musical instruments. Pawn activity, when someone gives up an item on collateral for cash, makes up about one-third of the business.
Business has been going well, but Briz could stand to open on Sundays, too, Brislawn said. He jokes that security footage often shows customers running to the door on Sundays and yanking its handle a couple times before realizing it’s closed. By being open an extra day, though, he said he could add a fifth employee.
But it is illegal for Vancouver pawnshops to handle loans on Sundays. Brislawn, 46, was fine with that when the area was “a dead zone” and weekend business was scarce. Now, he said, the law needs updating, even though it isn’t a make-or-break situation.
“It’s just another opportunity to grow and possibly hire another employee and serve our customers better,” he said. “If the city had legitimate reasons why they couldn’t do it, I’d (understand). … It’s just an opportunity.”
Under an obscure Vancouver ordinance, pawnshops are prohibited from handling pawns on Sundays, federal holidays and other holidays recognized by the city of Vancouver. It was ratified in 1996, and today the biggest restriction seems to be limiting operating hours to between 8:30 a.m. and 9 p.m.
Pawnshop owners say pawn activity was banned because the police records division wasn’t available on Sundays. Shopkeepers couldn’t check to see if goods were stolen before extending a loan.
Records have been digitized since then, they said. In fact, in the age of online sales, pawnshop owners say stolen goods rarely come to them.
“They have so many other avenues to get rid of stuff these days,” said Jeff Lanford, co-owner of Lucky Loan Pawn Shop at 614 Main St. “They don’t come to us where we check for picture ID and have a big sign on our counter that says everything is reported to the police.
“Only the really stupid thieves come to pawnshops.”
With that in mind, Brislawn has reached out to city officials to see what can be done to change the rule. He said they told him they will look into it. (City attorneys could not be reached for this story.)
Because the law applies only to actual pawn activity, Briz Loan & Guitar could theoretically open on Sundays to operate like a thrift store, buying and selling used goods.
The law also applies only within the city of Vancouver. For that reason, the Vancouver location for Tropics Jewelry & Loan will refer customers to its Hazel Dell shop. They toss in a free DVD for the customers’ trouble, said manager Dan Hills. It doesn’t happen often.
“Honestly, it really doesn’t make much of a difference,” he said. “Sunday typically is one of our slowest days anyway. We don’t make bang business just because we’re the only pawnshop open on Sunday.”
Exchange in downtown
Brislawn’s aim to open fully on Sundays is largely because downtown is busy on the weekends these days. That wasn’t the case when the law was ratified.
According to The Columbian’s archives, there were six pawnshops in downtown in 1996. A decade before that, the area was rife with cardrooms and bars and overshadowed by five blocks of the old Lucky Lager Brewery.
Local historian Pat Jollota, who served on the Vancouver City Council from 1990 to 2010, did not recall approving the pawnshop ordinances, but she said the city had to do a lot to turn the area around.
“When I moved here in the 1980s, you could fire a cannon downtown,” she said. “It was terrible. Just terrible — run down.”
Today, Esther Short Park has been rejuvenated into a summer concert stage, and the Vancouver Farmers Market is a magnet for Saturday and Sunday shoppers. New restaurants and stores beckon.
“Just in the last five years, it’s really ramped up in downtown, I’ve noticed,” he said. “More people are staying on this side of the river on the weekends.”
Pawnshop owners are split on whether the extra day of loans would help. The rise of eBay and Craigslist have taken a lot secondhand sales away, and people just don’t seem to pawn as much as they used to.
“Nobody’s getting rich,” Hills said. “There’s a misconception that we give you a dollar for something and sell it for $1,000. Nobody’s paying me brand new prices for used crap.”
Lanford said he didn’t mind if things stayed the same.
“It’s nice to have a family day and not worry about the business,” he said. “Go to church on Sunday, as we do. Enjoy it. Old-school stuff, you know?”