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‘I have to have these sunglasses. And oh my god, look at those diamond bracelets. Ooh and these cufflinks!’

If you’ve been on a shopping trip to New York City, no doubt institutions like Bergdorf’s, Bloomindale’s and Barneys ring a bell. We are at none of those places; we’re not even in the same borough. Instead, we’re at a pawnshop in Queens and the 28-year-old woman oohing and ahhing over the accessories not only selected many of the items for sale in this store (EZ Pawn at 42-27th Street in Long Island City), she’s part of a 14-store NYC pawn empire founded by her father, David Kaminsky. Also, her name is Gold Girl – well, by reputation, at least.

A guide to pawn shopping in New York City with Gold Girl

Lauren Kaminsky Goldman in her element – surrounded by gold in her NYC office.

Lauren Kaminsky Goldman (aka ‘Gold Girl’) is the woman responsible for making pawnshops cool, chic even, and Beauty & Essex – the restaurant, bar and nightclub with retro appeal – is the place where it happened. Back when the Manhattan eatery opened in 2010 (near a slew of hip downtown New York hotels, including The Ludlow and the Standard, East Village), it got noticed for two reasons: 1) they serve free champagne in the ladies’ bathroom (hard not to notice that) and 2) patrons enter through a fully functioning pawnshop with vintage guitars, vinyl and jewellery that’s often displayed on Barbie and Biggie Smalls dolls.

Goldman started stocking the shop at Beauty & Essex in spring 2011, creating an environment and aesthetic that would distance her operation from the traditionally seedy stereotypes of pawnshops. Then, when the restaurant launched a location in Las Vegas last year, Goldman once again brought the vintage baubles. Now, with a Beauty & Essex opening in Los Angeles next month (in addition to a Hollywood outpost of Tao, which is owned by the same company), the pawn princess will bring her curatorial prowess to the West Coast.

A guide to pawn shopping in New York City

Inventory for Goldman’s shops.

As we wandered her family’s pawnshop in Queens and examined old-school cameras, opal cocktail rings and Indian wedding necklaces cast in brilliant yellow gold, we picked Goldman’s brain for shopping tips. With her impeccably curated pawnshops now stretching from coast to coast, we figure this advice will come in handy…

Understand where you’re shopping.
First things first, how does a pawnshop work? Suppliers have the option to either sell an item or pawn it; a pawn is a loan. In New York, shops must hold a piece for a minimum of four months before placing it on the sales floor. If you do sell an item, you may never see it in the shop cases. Pawnbrokers often sell to wholesalers and vintage shops, or they melt gold. ‘Lately, high-end brands have added vintage sections to their stores’, says Goldman. ‘They’ve kind of rebranded the whole concept, but it’s what I’ve been doing for years!’

Make conversation.
Not only do pawnbrokers know their inventory, they’re also the ones who will ultimately price what you want to buy. Say hello, be friendly and create a relationship with the person behind the counter. ‘Hopefully they’ll give you a better deal’, says Goldman.

A guide to pawn shopping in New York City

Goldman testing the wares at her store in Queens.

Be patient.
‘Pawnshops are filled with one-of-a-kind treasures and their inventory changes constantly’, says Goldman. Come with an open mind and a willingness to browse. Also, checking back at the same store even a few days later may lead to a new discovery.

Have a price in mind.
Before you start negotiating, ask yourself what is this item worth to me? Have a number in mind, the maximum amount you’d be willing to pay, but obviously start negotiating at a lower price. Also, ‘make the broker offer up the initial figure’, advises Goldman.

A guide to pawn shopping in New York City

Goldman has a flair for merchandising.

Know the price of gold.
Pawnshops adjust their prices based on the current value of gold, so know that number – you can just Google it. If you’re shopping when gold is down, you can use that as leverage – you’ll also impress the socks off the broker in the process. ‘If I was working and a client mentioned the price of gold’, says Goldman, ‘I’d be so impressed, I’d want to work with them to strike a deal. It shows they know their stuff and I respect that.’

If you’d like to put your newfound skills to the test, Beauty & Essex is on the Lower East Side at 146 Essex Street.

Featured image is the pawnshop at New York’s Beauty & Essex, photo by Warren Jagger; all other photos by Antonella D’Agostino

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