The Pawn Shop on the Corner

The Joplin of today has numerous pawn shops dotting its streets and thoroughfares. Perhaps the most iconic pawnshop is that of Ben Milgram on Main Street. Pawn shops, however, were in downtown Joplin long before Milgram set up shop.

According to one turn-of-the-century account of Joplin pawn shops, people pawned the coats off of their backs for twenty-five to fifty cents. One pawn shop owner reported that a man had come into his store and asked to speak to the owner in the back. Embarrassed, the man asked the pawn shop proprietor if he “could get a loan on a good pair of shoes.”

Another Joplin pawn broker told the story of one of his repeat customers, an elderly African-American woman who often pawned her solid gold dental crown for money. According to the broker, she would enter his shop, take off her dental crown, wrap it up in a piece of paper, and then get her money. She reportedly had done this so often that the store owner rarely ever checked the paper to see if the crown was in it or not. One pawn shop operator on Third Street related the story of a man who burst into his store, pulled out his dentures, and asked “Say, mister, what’ll give me for these?”

A representative view of a pawn shop from the time period.

A representative view of a pawn shop from the time period, though not a Joplin pawn shop.

Men were not the only ones to patronize the pawn shops of Joplin. Women were known to “buy diamonds one day and come back to the same place and pawn them the next.” One woman reportedly pawned her wedding rings in order to pay for the cost of a divorce. Another woman pawned her expensive silk dress to get enough money to pay her brother’s rent after he fell ill and was unable to work. Fortunately she was able to reclaim her dress within a few days. One pawn broker remarked, “Yes, I’ve all sorts of things offered me; shoes, shirts, coats, and hats to diamonds and false teeth, and I wouldn’t be surprised to have a woman come in and want to borrow money on her false hair.”

Thus, a drive down Joplin’s Main street with pawnshops on the corner isn’t a recent phenomenon, but an experience shared with residents of Joplin that stretches back a century.

Sources: Library of Congress and the Joplin Globe.

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