It is nothing new for pawnbroker Rick Harrison to see a customer whose shivering has more to do with too much Jim Beam and just plain bad luck at the casino tables than it does with a cold snap.
The realization that you gambled away your car and rent payments and family grocery money on a booze-fueled spree has a way of making you shake to the core even in a heat wave, Harrison said as he sifted through jewelry pawned at his Gold and Silver Pawn Shop on Las Vegas Boulevard near downtown.
"Over the years I've seen so many people come in here, including many tourists, who are desperate, really desperate, for some money after living it up in this town," said the 43-year-old Harrison "They'd be pawning a stereo or a TV set."
But in recent months Harrison has been seeing more and more people who are desperate because of the worsening economy rather than their own self-destructive behavior.
They might be even more desperate than down-on-their-luck gamblers, he said, feeling as though they're playing the game of life the right way and still coming out losers.
People dressed appropriately for church or a business meeting more frequently are among his customers.
"You can't believe the family silverware and tea sets and Waterford crystal and paintings I'm getting from women who say they've never been in a pawnshop before," Harrison said, displaying what people have told him were family heirlooms. "It really gets to you when people say they're losing their jobs. It's sad."
Rolex watches and diamond earrings and cuff links that cost tens of thousands of dollars, proud prizes of now out of work entrepreneurs, are also in Harrison's possession. So is an exquisite table-top model of the Constellation frigate.
A woman in a navy, pin-striped suit hurrying into Harrison's shop refused to discuss why she was taking jewelry in a bag into the store.
"I never thought I'd have to do this," she said. "I find this embarrassing."
Although pawnshops give customers a place to hurriedly sell personal items -- the store resells the items for a much higher price -- it is also a common practice for a pawnbroker to issue loans off property left as collateral.
This pawned property, everything from jewelry and clocks to motorcycles and paintings, can be redeemed when the loan plus interest is repaid. At Harrison's shop, loans are set for 120 days at 10 percent interest every 30 days.
Most of the loans are small, but some, on expensive jewelry or motorcycles, for instance, can be for thousands of dollars.
If the customer defaults on the loan, the pawnbroker can sell the item.
Even in today's dismal economic climate, Harrison said customers make good on the loans 80 percent of the time.
"What they've left here means a lot to them," he said. "But defaults are up."
Oddly enough, the economic downturn has made it possible for Harrison to now show off merchandise as never before.
Rich mahogany cabinets from the Dillard's store on Maryland Parkway and jewelry display cases from area Mervyns are throughout the shop.
"When those stores went out of business in Las Vegas, I was able to pick it up inexpensively," Harrison said. "Pawnshops generally don't look like this."
In the back of the shop where most of the pawned inventory is stored, Harrison, whose staff includes his father and son, stood next to several Harley Davidson motorcycles.
"You can imagine how hard it was for these guys," he said. "They don't want to give up their bikes. But if they have to make a choice between a mortgage and food and their wives and these, they do what they have to do, and they'll work to get them back."
Expensive golf clubs also have been pawned. So have trailer hitches, remote control cars and row after row of musical instruments, mostly guitars.
"Most of these things people will get back," Harrison said.
Fifty-nine-year-old Manuel Cuibio, who said he was out of work, stopped at the pawnshop to sell some valuable coins.
"I got $41 for heart medicine," he said.
An electrician who had pawned his tools came in to pay off his $20 loan so he could get his tools back.
"It's about all I have that's valuable enough to get a loan on," he said. "But without my tools, I can't get work. I just wish I could find some work."
No longer can Harrison buy tools from construction workers.
"There used to be a great market for them," he said. "But now that the construction industry has gone to hell, I can't sell them."
As Harrison talked, 33-year-old Michelle Williams handed over money so she could retrieve her wedding ring.
Williams said both she and her husband were out of work.
"I hated to have to pawn this, but when we need money, I have to," she said.
Contact reporter Paul Harasim at email@example.com or 702-387-2908.