weather icon Partly Cloudy

Owner of Las Vegas’ Max Pawn talks about his industry

Vegas Voices is a weekly series highlighting notable Las Vegans.

It all started with a single handbag.

Now dozens of the luxe fashion accessories — “Sex in the City”-approved totes by designers such as Fendi, Cartier and Gucci that retail for more than your mortgage payment — line the walls.

But first there was just one.

“I was looking at assets that held value,” Max Pawn owner Michael Mack recalls as he leads a tour of his store on a recent weekday. “This lady came in with a Chanel bag she paid $4,000 for. We gave her $1,000. It held great resale value.”

With that, Max Pawn had a game changer.

“The handbag business brought customers that normally wouldn’t come into a pawn shop,” Mack says. “Our jewelry business has jumped because of our handbag business.”

His family has been in the business for generations — Mack shares an anecdote about how his great-grandfather sold Jimi Hendrix his first guitar at his shop in Seattle.

He has owned and operated stores from here to Texas, having also launched Super Pawn with his brother, selling his stake in the business 11 years ago.

Mack, who served on the Las Vegas City Council from 1999 to 2005, opened Max Pawn in November 2009 and has earned a reputation for high-end wares and famous customers.

Yeah, there’s still a rack of 99-cent DVDs to the right of the door, but there are also glass cases full of Rolex watches and diamond rings, a growing collection of sought-after sneakers and the occasional Rolls-Royce sale to boxer Floyd Mayweather.

As Mack has continued to build his business, he’s developed a broad philanthropic resume as well, working to benefit Noah’s House, Make-a-Wish Southern Nevada and homeless youth, among others.

Retreating to his office, which teems with autographed Golden Knights memorabilia, framed photos of political powerhouses and more, Mack breaks down his industry.

Review-Journal: You’re a fourth-generation pawnbroker. Is this always something you knew you were going to do?

Mack: No. My parents promoted us to go to college and maybe do something different. I went to USC, worked for IBM my junior and senior years. My junior year, it was the Olympics at USC, so I got to work on the Olympic project with IBM, which was cool. I was selling Selectric IBM typewriters, then after the Olympics, they came out with something called the PC. I sold the very first PC. The first one was the AT. The AT was $7,500, had like 12 RAM of memory, DOS-based, no operating system. Then the XT was the big one, $12,500. And we could not hang onto them. They were like the greatest thing. I was ready to graduate, my brother had already entered the business, and my dad made me an offer. It was the best thing that ever happened.

You’ve worked in the industry elsewhere. Is Vegas as a market appreciably different than other cities?

Totally. It’s the best pawn market in the world. Because cash is king here. It’s also evolved and changed. Before 2008, it was a very lower-middle-class business. After 2008, there were people coming to me that, their kids went to The Meadows School, they needed to pay their $12,000 tuition, they didn’t have it. But they had a Ferrari. And I took the Ferrari. I either sold it for them or they got a loan on it and they got it back. We have every walk of life here.

You’ve seemed cognizant of changing the perceptions of how pawn shops are viewed.

It really changed 20-plus years ago when we had Super Pawn. We took stores outside of (bad) areas where pawn shops were normally on skid rows and put them in neighborhoods where people wanted them. We had them in Summerlin. We had them in Henderson, in Green Valley. We had them everywhere. We made these stores more female friendly. It wasn’t like a smelly tool store that smells like gasoline or lawnmowers when you go in there.

When you think of some of the most memorable things that people have brought in over the years, what comes to mind?

Let me show you something. (Mack retrieves a vintage football helmet from the ’50s or so, back when a helmet is really only a helmet in name only.) Ever heard of (Pro Football Hall of Fame running back) Doak Walker? They have the Doak Walker Award. This is Doak Walker’s helmet. I’ve squeezed that on my head. I’m just thinking, ‘What kind of brain damage did they have back then’?

(He then grabs a wooden cylinder adorned with Native American art.)

This thing right here is really, really old, Native American. You can see it was all handmade. When they were traveling from camp to camp, they’d take the hot embers and they would put them in here. They would have the embers for the next fire.

The industry is always evolving, it seems. What’s next?

I’m always looking. Like sneakers. Sneakers is my new handbag. Sneakers is the millennial toy. That’s all they want. I jokingly say, ‘They don’t do China, they don’t do crystal, they don’t do art, they don’t do this, they don’t do that.’ You know what they do? They do apps on their phone. And if they know apps, they can buy sneakers. So we’re going to have sneakers in here. It’ll be a little different. We’re going to be the guy where you can buy the pre-owned sneaker. It’s maybe the $300 sneaker that you can buy for $150 now. It’s all about the draw. If you have anything that you think might be the next draw, I’m listening.”

Contact Jason Bracelin at jbracelin@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0476. Follow @JasonBracelin on Twitter.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
Entertainment Videos
Making Bread Pudding French Toast at Esther’s Kitchen in Las Vegas
James Trees, chef/owner of Esther’s Kitchen in Las Vegas, slices house-made blueberry bread pudding, coats it in egg yolks and mascarpone, fries it and tops it with spiced walnuts, Lyle’s Golden Syrup and creme fraiche. Heidi Knapp Rinella/Review-Journal
Celine Dion closes 1,141-show residency on Las Vegas Strip - VIDEO
Hear from Celine Dion about her 16 years on the Las Vegas Strip and what the future has in store for her. (Caesars Entertainment)
Lobster grilled cheese at Big Sur Oyster Bar
The hugely popular lobster grilled cheese at Big Sur Oyster Bar at the South Point in Las Vegas is made with white cheddar and served on sourdough. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
You can dine out with your dog in Las Vegas
Lazy Dog, among Las Vegas restaurants that allow dogs, is probably the most accommodating, with free bowls of water and a doggy menu. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Sparrow + Wolf at Vetri Cucina in Las Vegas
Marc Vetri will launch a new collaborative chef series June 18, with a little help from Sparrow + Wolf’s Brian Howard. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
10 best things to do at Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge
10 best things to do at Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge at Disneyland (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run at Disneyland - VIDEO
What it's like to ride the Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run At Disneyland (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Ada’s opens at Tivoli Village in Las Vegas - VIDEO
Ada’s, from James Trees, owner of Esther’s Kitchen in Las Vegas’ Arts District, brings Tivoli Village a similar menu of seasonal, artisanal pastas, pizzas — and ice cream. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Review-Journal)
Nutella French Toast at Cafe Americano in Las Vegas
Harold Norris, executive chef at Cafe Americano at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, coats brioche in cinnamon and chocolate and layers it with Nutella and bananas. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Heavier traffic expected from EDC festival attendees
Electric Daisy Carnival attendees began to vacate the Las Vegas Motor Speedway starting before 5 a.m., the majority heading south on Interstate 15.
What it's like to skip the lines and fly by helicopter to EDC
What it's like to skip the lines and fly by helicopter to EDC. (Janna Karel Las Vegas Review-Journal)
DJ Steve Aoki visits Las Vegas comic book store
DJ Steve Aoki visits Torpedo Comics in Las Vegas Friday, May 17, 2019, for a signing for his new comic book series "Neon Future." (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Las Vegas Smith & Wollensky opens at The Venetian
After 18 years, the Smith & Wollensky location on Las Vegas’ south Strip closed in 2017, to be re-born two years later with a rib-cutting — instead of a ribbon-cutting — in The Grand Canal Shoppes at The Venetian. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Review-Journal)
Colin Cantwell, Creator Of Iconic Star Wars Ships Visits Vegas
Colin Cantwell, who created and designed such "Star Wars" ships as the X-Wing fighter, and Death Star, met fans at Rogue Toys in Las Vegas today. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Beauty & Essex in Las Vegas makes an EDC Wonder Wheel
In honor of the Electric Daisy Carnival, Beauty & Essex at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas makes its Wonder Wheel party-worthy. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Giada talks Vegas Uncork’d
Giada De Laurentiis talks during Aperitivo Hour, a Vegas Uncork'd event, at her Caesars Palace restaurant, Pronto, May 10, 2019. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Scenes from Vegas Uncork’d 2019 on the Las Vegas Strip
The 13th edition of Vegas Uncork’d by Bon Appetit brought four days of food, wine, celebrity chefs and parties to town, May 9-12. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Three ingredients Gordon Ramsay can’t live without
Bon Appetit's Andy Baraghani interviews the "Hell's Kitchen" chef during a Vegas Uncork'd event at Caesars Palace, May 11, 2019. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Vegas Uncork’d launches wiith bubbles and a blade
Dozens of chefs representing some of the Strip’s top restaurants gathered Thursday at The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas to launch the 2019 edition of Vegas Uncork’d by Bon Appetit. (Al Mancini/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Bunky the Clown at the clown convention
Bob "Bunky the Clown" Gretton talks about his life as a clown and the Clown Convention which was in Las Vegas at Texas Station this week. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Frying soft-shell crab at Lola’s in Las Vegas
At Lola’s: A Louisiana Kitchen in Las Vegas, soft-shell crab is breaded and fried and served either as an appetizer, po’boy or platter. Heidi Knapp Rinella/Review-Journal
The Stove in Henderson makes Pecan Pie Pancakes
At The Stove in Henderson, chef/partner Antonio Nunez stacks buttermilk pancakes with pecans and dulce de leche and tops them pie crust crumbs. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Vinnie Paul remembered at Count's Vamp'd
The late rocker's favorite table at one of his favorite clubs in Las Vegas. (Jason Bracelin/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
4DX movie experience at Red Rock
4DX movie experience during a demo reel at Red Rock. (Christopher Lawrence/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
What To Do On May The 4th
There are plenty of events going on May the 4th this year around Las Vegas. Celebrate Star Wars and Comic Book Day all at once. The Rogue Toys, the 501st, Rebel Legion and Millennium Fandom Bar are all hosting fun events to help celebrate your geek-dom. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Las Vegas Water Sports Introduces New Attraction At Lake Las Vegas
Las Vegas Water Sports will debut its new aqua park attraction at Lake Las Vegas Days this weekend. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Making the Space Invader at Greene St. Kitchen in Las Vegas
Lysa Huerta, pastry cook at Greene St. Kitchen at the Palms in Las Vegas, starts with angel food cake, Fruity Pebbles ice cream and strawberry sorbet to create a space creature engulfed in flashing lights and swirling mists. (Heidi Knapp Rinella/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas Pools
The M, Park MGM and NoMad are just a few great pools in Las Vegas. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Jose Andres explains Iberico pork
(Al Mancini/Las Vega Review-Journal)
Inside Life is Beautiful
Craig Asher Nyman explains how Life is Beautiful festival is booked and talks about this year's line-up. (Jason Bracelin/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Nevada broadens lawsuit against opioid manufacturers, retailers

The lawsuit names more than 40 defendants, including several prescription drug makers as well as distributors such as CVS, Walgreens and Walmart.

Lie like a rug

An area rug can be an art piece that adds dazzle to a drab room or a blank canvas that highlights unique pieces in the room. There are a wide variety of materials, designs, heights and colors to choose from, and each requires

Fixing double-tapped circuit breaker is straightforward

When adding a circuit breaker or tandem breaker, you must prioritize safety first. You will be working inside your main electrical panel and if you lack experience at this, you may want to call in a professional.

Explore a hidden wonderland on Glen Canyon raft trip

One of the most enchanting stretches of the Colorado River begins at the base of the Glen Canyon Dam and winds about 15 miles downstream to Lee’s Ferry.