A new year often acts as a catalyst for individuals ushering in new beginnings – behavioral, physical or metaphorical. Health clubs, fortune tellers, job seekers and checklists seem to be impacted early as old personal habits go the way of the dodo bird. At least in theory. Those New Years businesses and services tend to ween as the days march on throughout the year. One industry that often overlooked in the times of revival and purge is one whose roots date back to Ancient China. This local proprietor has been the fabric in many communities as the facilitator of used goods and the purveyor of last chances. The Bakken pawnbroker.
Meet Raymond Gentry of Dakota Loan and Pawn. Gentry came to Dickinson in 1996 and says his business has been very steady since 2002. When asked about the effects the oil boom has had on his business, Gentry says, “Since the boom started, our business doubles every year.”
According to Gentry, there are many reasons for people utilizing his loan and pawn business. High paying oil jobs and low unemployment rates dominate headlines on the oil boom, but according to Gentry, he sees much more need for his business now than in the pre-boom era.
“Pre-oil boom the average North Dakotan and our economy has always been pretty steady so my business wasn’t utilized as much,” Gentry said.
Gentry notes that the influx of people into the state is bringing more people accustomed to utilizing pawn shops to get by. The mechanics of a typical pawn transaction are pretty simple. A customer brings in an item and uses it as collateral to obtain a relatively small cash loan. The customer than has a fixed period of time in which he can return to pay off the loan with interest and retrieve the item. If the customer doesn’t pay off the loan, the item becomes the property of the pawnbroker, who then sells it in his pawn shop.
He estimates that his business has about an 80% redemption rate, meaning people are coming back in to reclaim their items.
“We probably have about an 80% redemption rate on our pawns. People come back in and do pick their item back up.” Gentry said. “Of course there are those hard cases where people want their item back but something else comes up and it is more important or takes precedence over them getting the item back.”
Gentry continued saying he does his best to work with those hard luck cases, even if they “aren’t items of sentimental value.”
Pawn Shops Today, which boasts as being “The National Voice of the Pawn Industry,” claims the national redemption rate on pawn loans is around 80 percent.
When asked about the ratio of pawning versus selling, Gentry said, “It’s about 70/30 with 70% pawn, 30% sales.”
Many of sales are associated with situations of a job transfer. For instance, a worker going from welding work to oil work might sell off his welding equipment for other industry tools. Likewise, people beginning a new trade may come in looking to get equipped. In that sense the pawnbroker serves a much need service in the volatile job environment of an oil boom.
The other side of the boom that Gentry sees are the folks who can’t strike the balance between cost of living, wages, and quality of life. It is a reminder that not everyone makes it out Bakken and often comes with the realization that the effort to earn those wages comes at its own price.
“There are guys who have been coming up to the oil patch to work for say $25-an-hour, while they are paying $2000-a-month rent,” Gentry said. “After a year they sit back and say ‘I can work at home for $15-an-hour and pay $500-a-month rent and I’ll live just as good and be close to family.’ So they’ll cut back and go home after giving it a year’s go.”
Gentry said conversing with his customers is one of the perks of the jobs, finding out not only what brings them to the area, but what is keeping the professional nomads around.
“Some of the guys (coming into western ND) really just want to change their environment,” Gentry said. “North Dakota is beautiful country, if you come here and want a really nice place to live. North Dakota is a really good place.”
In addition to Ag and oil, North Dakota has been a rural paradise for hunters, outdoorsmen and gun-right enthusiasts. And in the pawn world, Gentry is quite accustom to handguns, rifles and compound bows.
“Our gun sales have been quite steady. Usually in the spring and late winter, end of summer we will pick up and acquire a supply of guns, then when the hunting season comes around, we will diminish our guns down again,” Gentry said. “Hand guns have been a big seller especially with the influx of people coming in. People are looking to protect their property more now, while our crime rates have changed dramatically over the past four years. It kinda all plays together.”
According to Stark County Sheriff Clarence Tuhy, the increase in concealed weapon permits has increased in the past year from 188 to 927. In 2005 there were 47 licenses issued in Stark County.
In addition to the demand for guns matching the increased number of conceal carry permits in the state, Gentry has also seen an interesting trend in non-lethal weapons.
Just a couple of years ago when the boom started to get traction, Gentry could barely keep non-lethal weapons such as tasers and pepper spray on the shelves. Now demand for non-lethal weapons has significantly tapered off in favor of handguns.
“Either everybody has them (non-lethal weapons) or they moved from pepper spray to a stun gun and then end up with a concealed weapon permit and a handgun which diminishes the demand for the stun gun or pepper spray,” Gentry said.
Once again people are pinning up their 2014 calendars pontificating about the year ahead. Some may hop in their vehicle and head to the Bakken in search of their new beginning. If 2014 is like any other Bakken Boom year, Dakota Loan and Pawn will double once again. The pawn shop is located right off to I-94 on Hwy 22, the invisible boundary line of the start and end of the Bakken. Gentry’s establishment is often the first or last stop for many workers either coming or going to the Bakken in search of change.
For some Bakken hopefuls, their new beginning is clearing the path for their New Years dreams. While others see the New Year as a harsh dose of Bakken reality, leading them on a different path.
“I have had guys coming through from California and Washington who would come out here and didn’t secure residency. No one explained to them the cost of living and a lot of the jobs out here want you to have a residence or a permanent place to live before they hire you,” Gentry said. “They get here and sleep in their truck or whatever and try to survive. They see they can’t make it and wind up selling their construction tools or whatever just to get the gas money to get home.”