After 16 years in operation, the last remaining pawn shop in Aldergrove – the Common Exchange – is closing its doors.
Seventy-five-year-old Rita Verhoef has managed the downtown store on Fraser Highway – with her 52-year-old daughter, Jackie – providing small collateral loans for more than a decade and a half. The pair have taken turns overseeing exchanges five to six days a week.
Common Exchange is a network of stores that began from a single Surrey location founded in 1993. There are a number of other locations operating across the Lower Mainland in Abbotsford, Chilliwack, Maple Ridge, Vernon and Surrey.
Retiring just shy of her 76nd birthday, owner of the Aldergrove store said it’s finally time to call it quits.
“I don’t want to own a business anymore, the amount of work has become too much,” she said.
Her husband Bart, a self-proclaimed handyman, performs general repairs around the store.
The Brookswood family immigrated from Holland nearly four decades ago.
Through the years, Rita especially, has relied on gut instincts to determine viable customers, regardless of who claimed short-term cash flow issues.
“I’ve done it for 25 years all together, so you get to know people. You get a feeling,” Rita said.
“You have to read people,” Jackie added, in order to avoid putting cash in the wrong pockets for stolen goods.
“It’s only supposed to be a small, temporary loan,” she explained.
A number of goods including power tools, jewelry, televisions, guitars and electronics line the store walls. Behind saloon-style swinging doors, the shop’s backroom teems with pawned valuables.
“All those guitars are mine,” Rita said, pointing to a wide variety of electronic and acoustic models.
What people bring in the most? “Gold,” Rita answered, which can be melted down and easily repurposed and sold.
Approved customers transfer their goods by signing a contract or “yellow ticket,” which details terms of interest. They receive an immediate loan of 10 to 15 per cent of the item’s market value, Bart explained.
At the two-month mark, there is an extra seven-day grace period given before the pawned item legally belongs to the Verhoefs.
“You have to see this as a kind of a mini-storage – when they come pick it up they have to pay the loan back, plus 18 per cent per month for storage and three per cent interest,” explained Bart.
The husband admitted “sometimes you get lucky,” and a customer settles for a small upfront loan as “they think next week, or two weeks from now, I can pay it back,” and want to avoid heightened interest charges.
Usually, Rita said she’ll phone the customer before claiming anything left behind as her own.
In some cases, the number listed is out of service or she’s even found out clients in jail, Bart said.
“Legally we’ll own it then, but it’s better for us if they come and pick it up,” he assured, even for high-ticket items like jewelry.
“Even if it’s a month later.”
The family makes a profit off of interest and surcharges as payment for holding the pawned item, they explained.
“Over the years, I’d say 92 to 95 per cent of pawned goods have been picked up” Bart said.
Though in some instances things have sat for eight or nine years, Rita sighed.
For the Verhoefs, Aldergrove has become somewhat of a second home.
Bart recalled numerous occasions when his wife gave money to a customer in dire need of cash to purchase medicine for her three-year-old daughter.
“It happened several times. The problem is she wouldn’t tell me,” Bart remarked.
“But that is part of the business too – helping the community.”
“I knew the kid was sick,” Rita admitted later, in confidence.
“That’s what neighbours are for, to help each other. That’s how I was brought up,” the store owner said about her Dutch roots.
The last day for pawning at Common Exchange was June 1.
The store will be open for purchases until July 20.
Neighbouring store, the Mad Picker Antique & Collectibles, will be in charge of liquidating what’s left on the shelves. All will be listed online and auctioned off on July 23 at www.themadpicker.com.
Between noon and 2 p.m. on July 20, the family will use its final business hours to cut cake and enjoy coffee with the community.
“We want to thank all of our customers,” Rita explained as a reason for the gathering.
“It’s for any customers who want to come and say goodbye,” her daughter added.
“Aldergrove has always been good to us. There are so many good people here,” Rita assured.
Her real focus, after the auction, will be her next decided venture.
She’s debating between volunteering at a hospital or jet-setting across the country to Peggy’s Cove, Nova Scotia, she grinned.
The Township of Langley has a zoning bylaw (1987 No. 2500) which bans pawn shops under its community charter.
Common Picker is grandfathered, having established itself prior to the Township bylaw implementation.
There are less than a handful of remaining pawn shops left in Langley City.