HAMMOND | There’s a new personality with celebrity status on the Hammond pawn shop scene.
Wayne Cohen, co-star of the reality television series, “Hardcore Pawn: Chicago,” has opened Super Pawn nearly across the street from the prominent EZ Pawn on the Woodmar stretch of Indianapolis Boulevard.
The show, filmed in Royal Pawn Shop in the South Loop where Cohen works with his brother Randy Cohen, is known for the constant bickering between the brothers and regular confrontations with customers at the store — which is across the street from Chicago's Metropolitan Correctional Center.
“When people see the cameras, they get a little crazy,” Wayne Cohen says. “That’s the one thing that is bad about the cameras. It is bad for business, but it is good for the show. … But sometimes, you have to be crazy.”
Eight more episodes were just completed and will begin airing June 18. The first episode drew 2.1 million viewers when it aired on TruTv at 9:30 p.m., according to The Hollywood Reporter. While it is undecided if cameras will become part of the culture at Hammond's Super Pawn, Wayne says the notion is appealing because it is considerably larger than the Chicago store.
Already, Super Pawn is a bit more sensational than the traditional pawn shop. “More people recognize me here than at my store in Chicago, where I have been working for 40 years,” Wayne says. “We are huge down here.”
He says people often will travel farther to haul their merchandise to his stores because of the Hollywood aspect. He believes some people bring in more obscure items just because they want to boast to a national audience.
Wayne recalls the man who would pledge his glass eye regularly for a $20 loan. He also has dealt in gold teeth and has an impressive collection of sports memorabilia: an autographed Walter Payton jersey and a signed photo of Michael Jordan making his last professional shot in which Cohen says he is seated in the background. Then there are the mounted heads of beasts killed on African safaris and a snarling stuffed hyena baring its teeth — all things that look good on reality TV.
Despite the sometimes dysfunctional relationships and exaggerated personalities, Wayne says the recent surge in pawn-shop reality shows has brought legitimacy to the business.
“It shows the people that we are not all a bunch of scumbags. … We are licensed by the state and the city. And we don’t deal in stolen merchandise because if it’s hot, we lose our money.”
Wayne presents himself as an “everyday honest guy,” as any clever salesman would. He says he often pays people more than they are asking if he knows the true value of the item. He recalls one man who brought in a box of “junk” and asked for $100 but left $5,000 richer because there was a significant amount of gold included.
The fact that Super Pawn is part of a family-run and -operated business has true appeal, he says. People don’t want to be treated like a number. Many pawn shops, especially the corporate stores, operate on a formula. He says they hire people off the street, and the computers tell them what to pay and what rates to offer for loans. Things are more personal in a family store, he says: “I am willing to work with you.”
Cohen jokes he is 57 years old, but he has been in the pawn business 58 years. His father started their first pawn store in Chicago during the '40s, before it was fashionable. And it required greater skill than today because the Internet wasn’t available back then for easy research and price-checking. Brokers really needed to know merchandise and often took gambles.
Those interested in meeting Cohen and some of the co-stars of Hardcore Pawn Chicago will have that opportunity Sunday during Super Pawn’s grand opening, 6714 Indianapolis Blvd. He says there will be giveaways, autographs, food and lots of photo opportunities.