Justin M. Bowen
Friday, June 17, 2011 | 5:07 p.m.
When last we checked in on the men of “Pawn Stars” at their Las Vegas Boulevard headquarters, it was March 2010, and the show had just erupted across cable television.
- Pawn Stars, Reva Rice
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At that time, Rick Harrison was just becoming accustomed to the sometimes-unnerving trappings of fame, especially being recognized in public and dealing with interlopers who found their way into the business through its back alley entrance. But more importantly, the Harrisons were focused on a long-overdue expansion of the old building on Las Vegas Boulevard, just north of Charleston Boulevard.
The renovation cost about a half a million dollars and has just recently been completed. The new fortress allows for a new top floor at the building, which was built in 1934, with the first addition finished two years later. The higher digs give the business’s proprietors some rare and needed privacy in the maze-like, multi-room expanse adorned with vintage movie posters.
“This is where the brain trust is,” Rick Harrison said at the top of the latest episode of “Kats With the Dish,” for which Harrison and his son, Corey “Big Hoss” Harrison, and the esteemed Austin “Chumlee” Russell were interviewed for the show that aired Friday on KUNV 91.5-FM (catch the show and accompanying video linked in this column).
“You don’t want to go in the back room,” added Chumlee, not specifying just where that back room is, but we can impart that he has become a pretty good artist with acrylic spray paint (at some point we will suggest a gallery show, maybe at the Arts Factory, titled, “The Art of Chumlee”). And, for a sample of what you'll find as you walk into the entrance of the pawn shop, click this story.
The “Pawn Stars” are riding high, happily busy and still piloting one of the cable universe’s great success stories. The show debuted in July 2009 and earlier this month was signed to a new agreement with The History Channel calling for 80 new episodes (a story originally reported by my colleague Robin Leach). That breaks down to four more seasons, guaranteed, for the show that airs in back-to-back, 30-minute installments at 10 p.m. Mondays.
Also, Rick Harrison has just released his autobiography, “License to Pawn: Deals, Steals and My Life at the Gold & Silver” with the help of the fine sports writer Tim Keown of ESPN.com. The book debuted at No. 22 on The New York Times Bestseller List. Harrison is pushing for it to be No. 1 (it’s a good Father’s Day present for you late shoppers), and to promote both the show and the book -- and heck, even the pawn shop itself -- the guys are making five public appearances across the country between this weekend and the end of July. On Saturday, they are at Swinomish Casino in Anacortes, Wash.
As “Big Hoss" says, “We can’t actually do a tour of personal appearances. We’ll go to Tulsa, Okla., then back to the pawn shop for a week, and then to Fresno, and it’s just out-out-out.”
What else we learned, or were reminded of, from the always-entertaining cable superstars (not present was the media-averse Richard “Old Man” Harrison):
For Chumlee, fame is a double-edged sword -- and not one pawned at the store: “The obvious (change) has been, I can’t go out in public without taking 40 pictures every 10 minutes,” he says. “But I’ve been able to buy nice things. … I bought a Maserati for myself.” When McCrone asked about his lovely diamond earrings, Chumlee said, “Oh, I had these before the show. I work at a pawn shop. I get this stuff cheap.”
The show’s shooting schedule is not getting any lighter: “Generally, it’s 11 to 12 hours a day, five days a week, 40 days a year,” Rick Harrison says. “On the weekends, we go out of town on personal appearances. We never get a day off.”
The rope line out in front of the store has become a Gold & Silver hallmark: “That was definitely put up because of the show,” Rick Harrison said. “About a year and a half ago, we actually had to put those up out there and get a doorman because the place was getting too packed and the Fire Department was getting upset with us for going over capacity. During the day, from 11 in the morning to 2 or 3 in the afternoon, there are lines.” Chumlee, ever jocular, added, “We have a dress code now. You need to be in proper attire.”
Locals can hop the rope line: Seriously, if you have a valid Nevada ID, you are given preferential treatment at Gold & Silver. “We do a lot of pawn business, and just so locals know, if you’re local, all you have to do is show your ID and you can walk straight to the front door,” Rick Harrison said. Chumlee did warn, “But don’t try to bring 15 relatives with you.” A further explanation from Big Hoss, “We started getting complaints from our real customers in town who want to do business but won’t come in because of the line and go to the place down the street that doesn’t have a line.”
For a TV star, Rick Harrison has an unexpected opinion of television: “I hate to say this about television, since I have a television show, but it’s just mind-numbing to me. … Don’t ask me a question about pop culture.” But when I asked what is the top show on cable TV, he said swiftly, “Pawn Stars.”
One quick opinion of the show most often compared to “Pawn Stars,” PBS’s “Antiques Roadshow”: “I’ve seen it a few times,” Rick Harrison said. “To me, the prices are kind of astronomical.”
Rick Harrison’s affection for reading is still impressive to his son: “I’ve actually called him on the phone and he’ll be at UNLV’s bookstore buying textbooks to read -- for fun. Chemistry books, he’ll buy, just to read.”
Big Hoss has held jobs other than managing Gold & Silver Pawn: “I was an electrician for a while, I was a construction worker for a while,” he said. “I actually worked in a sawmill for a while, but this has always been home. I would come in here at 9 years old and sweep the floor and polish jewelry, and it just always felt right to work here.”
Chumlee’s first job with the family was not actually at the Pawn Shop: As Big Hoss recalled, “Actually, we owned a Quizno’s for a while, and Chumlee was brought over to help with the Quizno’s.” Chumlee finished the sentence with, “Slash, run it into the ground.”
The transactions played out on the show are staged, to a large degree, but the Pawn Stars say they are genuine: “One of the guys up front will say, ‘Hey, Rick, do you want to put this on the show?’ I go, ‘Yeah,’ and grab a production manager, and we’ll schedule it for the next day,” Rick Harrison said. “What generally takes five minutes takes an hour to film. It’s all authentic, but the director will have me walk down the counter, then he’ll want another angle for me walking down the counter.” As Chumlee notes, “Sometimes Rick will go, right away, ‘How much do you want?’ and the director will go, ‘No! No! No! Not yet! Tell me where you got it from! I want to go into the history more!’ ”
Most customers try to play the show’s success against the business in negotiations: “Most people want a lot more from us than stuff is worth,” Rick Harrison said, “because they think we’re extremely wealthy or something.” Or, adds Chumlee, “They think their stuff is going to be worth a million dollars if it gets on the show.”
Rick’s favorite celebrity meeting has been, oddly enough, Ronnie Montrose: Montrose is guitarist and founder of the band Montrose, which featured a young Sammy Hagar on vocals. As Rick said, “Meeting Ronnie Montrose, that was pretty cool. But ninety-nine percent of people have no idea who Ronnie Montrose is.”
The best way to fix that would be to get Ronnie on the show, have him part with a Gibson or two, maybe.