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Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Collectible market sees surge amid pandemic

Purchases of vintage and pawned items have been on the rise since the onset of the coronavirus

The variety of vintage and used items offered by shops like Simple Pawn have piqued consumer interest amid the pandemic.
The variety of vintage and used items offered by shops like Simple Pawn have piqued consumer interest amid the pandemic.

If there’s a pile of items sitting untouched in a dusty corner of your house, now might be the time to rummage through the rubble.

The market for collectible items — such as trading cards, classic toys and vintage coins — has surged since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, and the trend has continued across Gainesville’s pawn shops.  With more disposable income and free time, consumers are purchasing collectible items in waves, and the potential for valuable objects is almost unlimited.

Chad McGhee, CEO of Windermere-based financial and retail solutions company Simple Management Group, said the uptick was noticeable. Across his four pawn shops in Central Florida, which operate under the chain Simple Pawn, McGhee said he saw an increase in purchasing activity throughout the course of the pandemic.

“People are coming in and purchasing items like that a little bit more,” he said.

McGhee’s business offers short-term financial solutions in exchange for objects of value. In the process of pawning, his stores have amassed quite the collection of specialty items, including jewelry, electronics, power tools and more. 

As for what constitutes a valuable item, McGhee said scarcity and condition are the major identifying factors, but anything that sparks customer interest fits the bill.

“If they’re willing to pay for them, that means they have value,” he said.

Traditionally, these have been everyday items like tools and firearms, McGhee said. Coin collections have also served as items of note, he said, as the arrays of currency are typically passed from generation to generation.

Practical items, ones made for household use, have been especially popular amid the pandemic. Brent Stewart, a pawnbroker at Oaks Pawn South in Gainesville, said he saw an increase in the sales of TVs, laptops, gaming systems and other kinds of electronics, and he cited more time spent at home as a possible cause. 

The early days of the coronavirus were where the most activity occurred, Stewart said. When initial stimulus checks and loans like the Payment Protection Program were distributed, Steward said he noted an influx in customers making purchases. 

“They had a lot of disposable income, so they took out all their loans and bought stuff,” he said.  

But practicality isn’t the only indicator of an item of value. As the years pass and the ‘90s gradually fade into a bygone era, McGhee said objects from that decade have slowly become vintage and, therefore, valuable. 

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Gameboy cartridges, Pokémon cards and more have slowly slipped into ‘throwback’ territory, which dramatically increases their value. What used to sell for spare change is now potentially worth hundreds, even thousands of dollars, McGhee said.

“Things like that were just everyday items,” McGhee said. “Now they’re collectible.”

McGhee partially attributed the increase in interest toward collectibles to the nostalgia factor. As families continue to spend more time together, McGhee said parents are looking to introduce their kids to their own childhoods with old favorites.

Passing the classics down to the next generation was the main component for Dylan Finucan in keeping his card collection.

Finucan, a 21-year-old UF political science graduate, started collecting Yu-Gi-Oh! cards, a popular trading card battle game based on the anime series of the same name, when he was 4 years old. 

“I liked the artwork on them, and they helped me learn math, reading and memorization,” he said.

Finucan still has a collection, but now it resides at his parents’ home and remains in the care of his little brothers.

“I’ve been able to pass them to my brothers and play with them, help them learn the same skills I learned with them,” he said.  

With the nostalgia craze as of late, the pile of stuff in your back room may very well turn a profit at one of the 20-plus pawn shops in Gainesville. McGhee said the best way to gauge the potential value of an item is to consult the internet, where just a quick search can reveal the differences between trash and treasure.

McGhee also cited local pawn shops as suitable starting points for breaking into the business. With experts in a variety of fields working with Simple Pawn and other shops, McGhee said item inquiries of all kinds can be answered quickly.

“As they say in “Pawn Stars,” ‘I got a guy for that,’” McGhee said.

Contact Heather Bushman at hbushman@alligator.org. Follow her on Twitter @hgrizzl.

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