Royal Pawn Chicago: Family Business in the Limelight

Chicago is set to be the backdrop for TruTV’s original show, “Hardcore Pawn: Chicago.”

Though the show has been compared to the History Channel’s “Pawn Stars,” the focus of this show is the drama and personal stories of both the customers and the store owners. The producers must have known they struck gold when they found Chicago’s Royal Pawn Shop, Chicago’s largest and oldest pawnshop, owned by the Cohen family.

All In The Family

I made a visit to Royal Pawn at 428 South Clark Street and met brothers Randy (of Northbrook) and Wayne (of Glenview) Cohen whose father Jacob, a watchmaker, started Royal Pawn before they were born. “We worked here all our lives,” Randy says. “We fight like cats and dogs, but we laugh.” That combination was evident as I could hardly get a word in to ask questions, as the banter flew amongst the brothers and their children; Randy’s daughter Elyse and Wayne’s son Nate, who also claim to have worked at Royal Pawn their entire lives. The insults and one-upmanship dominate dialogue like a well-scripted sitcom.

Stranger Than Fiction

TV-royal-pawn-teethI asked the brothers a bit about how the pawn business works. Randy explains his theory that they offer a service. “There is no place else in the world you can get cash with no questions or no credit check. All we need is an ID and the item you want to sell or put up for a loan and you’re walking out with cash.” The terms of the pawn are negotiable and may last for up to a year, but three months is standard.

The unusual nature of these transactions leads to much of the comedy and drama of a typical day at Royal Pawn. I was given a tour of their storage facilities where rooms of fur coats, computer equipment and musical instruments left me wondering about the story that led to each item’s abandonment. The Cohens are hard pressed to answer what is the most unusual item they’ve taken, but I received an earful of stories about glass eyes, gold teeth, and stuffed pets.

You Can’t Make This Stuff Up

Filming for “Hardcore Pawn: Chicago” took place this summer during 10 weeks from July to September for the nine episodes. The Cohens all agree that as passionate and sometimes absurd as viewers may find some of the transactions, it is just a sample of what they face every day.  “People just really didn’t care that the cameras were on, this is how it really is,” Wayne says.

I can guarantee, you won’t want to miss the premiere of “Hardcore Pawn: Chicago,” Tuesday, January 1 at 8:30 p.m. central on TruTV.

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