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Jewish World Review July 9, 2001 / 18 Tamuz, 5761

Jimmy Breslin

Jimmy Breslin
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Consumer Reports

Ring of Truth At Pawnshop -- "I NEED this back," he told Gross the Pawnbroker.

"It'll be here."

"If I ever lose this, she'd kill me."

"Wasn't it here the last time?"

"Yeah. If I'm a day late coming around you won't sell it off now."

"I told you, no."

"She'd kill me. And it would kill her. I couldn't do it to her."

"I know you couldn't."

"She's such a lovely woman."

"And she'll have her lovely ring back."

"I hate to leave it in here for a day, but I have to do it," he said.

"You'll have it. You got a month for $35. But after that it's only 3 percent interest. And we'll keep it for you."

If unclaimed for a good period, items are sold at auction on Canal Street or from Gross' sales case.

"I better not miss."

"Let me ask you one thing personal," Gross said.

"Go ahead."

"What does she say when you take it here?"

"She doesn't know."

"All the times you've been here with it? She doesn't know?"

"If she does know, she acts like she don't. She has it up on a tray in the bedroom. She don't wear it all the time, anyway. Sometimes she'll look and it's gone. I see her do that. She don't say a word. She doesn't even look at me. She just figures some day soon she'll look and it'll be right back there again. In the meantime, I need it to get by."

Ray is a member of the 10-day nation, one of the millions who gets paid every other week. He starts the 14-day stretch pretty good but then runs out of steam. There are in the area of the Gross pawnshop many postal employees, railroad workers, hospital workers who are 10-day people. Nobody looks at the Wall Street Journal. When these people are broke, they are not broke on paper.

In Ray's case, by the end of 10 days he is a busted valise and he is looking for anything to get him through the last four days to payday. It is often his wife's engagement ring. He can get $350 to maybe $400 on it at Gross Pawnbrokers on Eighth Avenue and 34th Street. They've been at that spot for the last 100 years.

Ray has been putting that ring in for six years now. A couple of times a year when he's jacked in, he goes to the tray in the bedroom and brings the ring to Gross and then, after a month or so, he is in to redeem it and return it to the tray.

"He sure loves that wife," Bob Gross, 80, said once after Ray left to bring the ring home. "We see a lot of people with rings here. But "he's the one you can be sure of." Most of the rings line up in the store after a boy and girl have a discussion and she says that she should have married Eddie.

Gross only loans money on rings and watches and jewelry. Once, he had to know cameras and musical instruments and typewriters. His confidence in being able to tell if a customer is honest or not comes from those days. If you brought a camera, he asked what film you used. Old ledger books show that in October 1929, after the stock crash, the pawnshop took an overcoat for a dollar, another for 50 cents ...maybe it wasn't too good against the wind, but it looked like a coat...a silver fork for 50 cents - the man could eat with his hands - a beaded bag for a $1.50, a saxophone for $5, tablecloths for a dollar, a pocket watch for 75 cents.

Around 1950, he gave everything up but gold and jewelry. A decent diamond is everybody's best friend.

Until the start of this summer, 90 percent of the jewelry was redeemed by the person who put it in. Then things shifted and now people are pawning 15 percent more items than are being redeemed. Wall Street analysts who go on television and talk of how good things really are can't envision anybody in the 10-day nation and how they are doing.

Of the people coming in and out of Gross' the one considered the most stable is Ray and the most unstable is Susan. She is not in the 10-day nation.

"I can't help myself. I just came from Macy's," she reports, putting more of her jewelry on the counter. Her transactions take up 29 pages of the Gross computer.

But the other day she was in to redeem her husband's favorite watch, which she has been telling him for months is being repaired.

"It's funny, I don't see Ray," Bob Gross was saying to his nephew one day.

Ray had not been around for months.

"I'm keeping the ring for him. But this is the longest he's ever been." The other day, his sure shot, Ray, finally walked in. He pointed right away to a necklace that was on display.

"I got to have that. I'm going to Atlantic City," he said.

"Sure," Gross said.

As he sold the necklace to Ray, he said, "And you'll want your ring." "That?"

"For the wife."

"What? She's gone. I don't ever want to see the thing again. It's yours."

He left for Atlantic City. With sadness, for he thought this would last forever, Gross got the engagement ring out of the safe and put it in with the envelopes being sent to the Canal Street auction. If anybody's heart was broken, it was the pawnbroker's.

Jimmy Breslin, a long-time friend of JWR, needs no introduction. Comment by clicking here.

© 2001, Jimmy Breslin