April 2016

Top Dollar Pawn: Local Source for Fast Funding and Fabulous Finds

Author: Kitty Bartell | Photographer: M.Kat Photography

A picture of Abraham Lincoln of unknown origin and a mountain lion named Sheena are just two of the myriad items of interest that have been spotted over the years at Top Dollar Pawn on Hilton Head Island. You never know what might turn up at this local pawn shop. Owner Ray Clark says where the picture of President Lincoln came from is a mystery that may never be solved, and so far it’s not for sale. Sheena, on the other hand, was Clark’s real live pet and shop companion for several years. She would join him daily to greet customers like an outgoing cat or affable dog. Eventually moved to a zoo, Sheena enjoyed her time as mascot at the Mathews Drive pawn shop that opened in 1986.

Now with two locations, their Hilton Head Island shop and one in Bluffton that opened in 2006, Top Dollar Pawn benefits customers in two important ways Clark said. “There is a great deal of money to be saved buying the things that are for sale here, and working with a pawnbroker is an avenue to get cash if you need it. We’re the kind of place where, if people need cash quick, if something comes up, and you don’t have time to go through the loan process, you can walk right in the pawn shop and walk out with cash in your hand.”

A family-owned and operated business, Clark and his wife Debbie own the Bluffton location, and are partners in the Hilton Head Island store with his mother Rosemary Jorgensen. The Clarks have three children. Dakota, their eldest, joined the business in 2012, working alongside longtime team members, Dawn and Mike, and Dawn’s son, who works part time. This relatively small staff operates what Clark considers to be relatively small shops. “I’ve always kept it small by design. I hope to turn things over quickly so that I don’t become just a big old junk shop.”

“I’ve heard the only other business that’s older than the pawn business is prostitution,” Clark said.

“It’s rumored that Queen Isabella of Spain pawned the crown jewels to finance Columbus to come over to America.” While Top Dollar Pawn does not have any crown jewels for sale, there are plenty of treasures to be found: jewelry, watches, guns, electronics, musical instruments, tools, laptops, video equipment, and likely much, much more. “I guarantee authenticity. If I say it’s a diamond, it’s a diamond.” Clark can also order jewelry directly from wholesalers, like a regular jewelry store, with much smaller mark-ups. “The savings on jewelry is phenomenal compared to what you’d pay at a jewelry store.”

The process of pawn begins with the customer’s motivation. A need for cash is most-common, followed closely by the desire to clear out the clutter or liquidate items that are no longer wanted or needed. Top Dollar Pawn works with customers who wish to pawn and those who wish to sell, and it is important to know the difference. “Pawning means you want it back; selling means you want to get rid of it,” Clark said. “You have to decide if you are pawning or selling before the transaction begins.”

Regulated by the State of South Carolina Department of Consumer Affairs, there are clear and specific laws and regulations by which a pawnbroker must operate. “If it’s something the customer doesn’t care about and doesn’t want, they should come in to sell the item, because they’ll get more cash by selling it,” Clark said. “If it is pawned, I have to potentially hold it for 90 days. If the customer sells it, I only have to hold it for eight days to make sure it hasn’t been stolen. Everything is held at least a week to give the police the opportunity to pick up the pawn tickets and see if it matches any of their reported stolen sheets; anything that comes in over the counter has to be checked by the police. Now, anything made of precious metal must be held for 21 days.”


Ray Clark, Gia and Dakota at the Bluffton location on Hwy. 46 ——- A saxophone, Rolex and guitar currently available for sale at Top Dollar Pawn.

Once an item is sold to Top Dollar Pawn and it has gone through the research process with the Beaufort County Sheriff’s department, the item goes up for sale in one of their shops. If an item is pawned, the Department of Consumer Affairs dictates how much the pawnbroker must charge the customer when they return to collect the item. “More people pawn than sell,” Clark said. “However, only about half of the customers who pawn actually come back and redeem the item.” The time-frames by which all pawnbrokers must hold an item and when that item is transferred to the shop’s ownership, meaning it may be put up for sale is, again, regulated by laws written to protect the consumer and treat the business fairly as well.

Clark is a federally licensed gun dealer, which involves additional regulation and oversight. “Whether someone is buying a gun, or redeeming their own gun that they pawned, we have to go through an FBI background check before they can get their gun back or they buy any gun,” Clark said. “I’m not allowed to put a gun that has been in my possession in the hand of anyone that has not had a background check.” Additionally, any handgun sold in South Carolina must be purchased by a customer with South Carolina State identification. “If it’s a long gun, the buyer may be from any other state. I just have to abide by the laws of that state.”

Local experts in the pawn business, Top Dollar Pawn’s valuations are based on 30 years of experience and a reputation for integrity and fairness. “We value by what it’s worth,” Clark said. “We have to consider what we can get for it in a reasonable amount of time in our market. Appraisals are irrelevant because they’re just opinions and are primarily for insurance purposes only.”

Top Dollar Pawn is your local resource to get cash quickly and to find all manner of treasure, from jewels to tools, from cameras to coronets. The finds are fabulous. 

Top Dollar Pawn has two locations: Hilton Head Island, 11 Mathews Drive, Suite 7, (843) 681-3400. Open Monday-Friday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Bluffton, 10F Kittie’s Landing Road, (843) 836-5626. Open Monday-Friday 10 a.m.-6 p.m., and Saturdays 10 a.m.-4 p.m. For more information, please visit topdollarpawn.us.

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