Tri-Cities’ own pawn stars find niche in musical equipment
In the market for music equipment? Ed and Moe’s Pawn Shop & Guitar Bar is a store you’ll want to put on your list.
It has typical pawn shop items – electronics, power tools, jewelry, collectibles – but Ed and Moe’s puts special focus on providing a replete inventory of secondhand musical instruments, audio equipment and a line of new accessories, including in-house made guitar effects pedals.
“Think of it like a salad bar,” said owner Russel Del Gesso. “We sell guitars, amps, strings, cables, chords, repairs, setups, a quiet room to test it out, an open floor where you can pick it up and play it. It’s more than just guitars, just music in general.”
Though it’s not unusual for pawn shops to sell music equipment, specializing in their sale is unique.
“Tri-Cities is definitely a hotbed for music, live music performance, karaoke and more. It has the foundation here, it is alive and well here,” Del Gesso said.
“Live music and entertainment are something I’ve always really appreciated … we want to offer another avenue of keeping that going. Ed and Moe’s is one more avenue for musicians, artists and beginners wanting to pick out an instrument and get going – an affordable spot to be able to offer that to anybody and everybody.”
How it works
Due to their secondhand nature, shops like Ed and Moe’s sell at a discount and even consider offers.
Though the concept of pawning dates back thousands of years, pawn shops’ popularity has waned with the proliferation of payday loan stores.
Pawn shops acquire their inventory from those seeking to sell items outright, trades and surrendered pawn loans. A pawn loan is secured using an item as collateral.
For example, a person short $100 might go to a pawn shop with an item and ask if it will loan them money in exchange. Assuming it will, the person hands over the item as a security pledge.
In Washington, the item can be held for up to 90 days, during which time the person who pledged it can return and pay back the $100, plus 4% fixed APR, to receive their item back.
If 90 days pass and the person doesn’t have enough money to pay back the loan, but they still want their item, they can pay the interest and rewrite the loan, starting a new 90-day cycle on the original amount.
A person can rewrite their pawn as many times as they want.
If, however, they choose to give up the item or simply never return, by law the item is sacrificed as security for the loan and the pawn shop can then sell it.
“We take that risk that we’ll make that money back; we’re out as long as it takes to recover the money,” Del Gesso said.
The crucial difference between pawn loans and those offered by payday loan institutions and banks is, with pawns, there’s no credit reporting if one defaults. There also isn’t a credit score-anchored loan application.
“That’s been our primary mission,” Del Gesso said. “To provide a service for the people who don’t have the mortgage or the car with real value to it; people who go through divorce or bankruptcy (for example), we provide them a financial solution that maybe they don’t have from a bank.”
He said customers have been resourceful in their use of pawns to secure funding for business startups, home renovations and other big expenses.
“People don’t think about the value in everyday items,” he said.
Despite the unique service, pawn shops have long been stigmatized as dens of criminal activity where stolen goods are unloaded.
Tighter regulation of pawn shops, including daily reporting of inventory acquired to a national database accessible by law enforcement, has cut down on the peddling of stolen goods.
Del Gesso said though Ed and Moe’s works closely with the Kennewick Police Department to thwart thieves and reunite stolen items with rightful owners, there are numerous peer-to-peer resale platforms (like Facebook Marketplace and Offerup), which can make tracking down lost items more difficult, if not impossible.
He said both he and Tony Sanders, owner of Ace Jewelry and Loan, do what they can to “help create an extra layer of security for our community.”
Store legend has it that Ed & Moe’s was started in Seattle in the 1920s by two guys named Ed and Moe who opened a bath house and laundry on the waterfront and later expanded into providing pawn loans on clothing.
Family friend Paul Plugoff, who owns Ed & Moe’s Pawn Shop in Yakima, reportedly bought the business from Ed and Moe’s descendants.
Del Gesso, a Central Washington University graduate in business management and organization, saw growth potential in Ed & Moe’s and decided to buy in in 2007.
In 2008, he branched out independently in the 600-square-foot building now occupied by Just Joel’s in Kennewick.
A decade later, Ed and Moe’s made the move to its current 3,300-square-foot location at 419 W. Entiat Ave., Suite C, in Kennewick, next door to Ace Jewelry and Loan, the only other pawn shop left in Tri-Cities.
“It’s not an uncommon thing for like businesses to cohabitate … think about when you go to buy a car … centralizing business is actually beneficial to the consumer base,” Del Gesso said.
The owners of two former local pawn shops, Blue Bridge Pawn of Kennewick and Trading Post of Pasco, both cashed out in recent years, he said.
Del Gesso said he barely manages Ed & Moe’s, employing a crew of four.
“I’m very fortunate to have very good employees … (we) always look at it as a building block; how can I help them get to the next level? How can I help foster them to build a business of their own?”
Jay Valdez, who’s worked at Ed and Moe’s for the past eight years, said the best part of working there is “getting to work with so many different items – you can’t just like one thing – you have to know a little bit about a lot.”
Lalo Ruiz, who has worked in the shop for about two months, said “it’s cool seeing the regular customers that come in … you’re encouraged to talk to everyone and learn about people.” He added the best part of the job is “making an impression and making someone’s day.”
Joby Tijerina has been with Ed and Moe’s for six years. He teaches music lessons and repairs the instruments that come in.
“Joby is a part of our core staff and an integral part of the commitment to music and growing our depth in that regard,” said Del Gesso, who added that he is a mentor to several students and customers and has helped make Ed and Moe’s the one-stop-shop for everything, especially music.
Quoting the popular History Channel series, “Pawn Stars,” Del Gesso said, “You never know what is going to come through that door.”
Valdez said one of the weirdest was a laundry basket full of crosses, at the bottom of which was a mysterious bathroom tin. It ended up being full of used cotton swabs.
“That was awkward,” he said.
“The fun stuff is to always see repeat customers and we try to convert everyone to buyers at some point and time – converting people in need to people who are no longer in need but come back of their own free will to be a continued customer,” Del Gesso said.