For the second time in recent decades Las Vegas pawn shop owners Howard and Caryl Bock find themselves in the path of a major downtown casino expansion.
Only this time they might not be able to get out of the way.
The couple’s tiny Ace Loan store on Third Street is an obstacle to the redevelopment of the Lady Luck casino, a shuttered husk that towers over a downtown business district that’s seeking to restore its luster.
The Bocks opened the store at 215 N. Third St. and another at Paradise Road and Sahara Avenue several years ago after an expansion of the Golden Nugget pushed them out of their longtime location on First Street.
This time, however, moving out of the way of another casino expansion isn’t so easy because neighbors to the vacant building at 519 E. St. Louis Ave. where the Bocks want to relocate don’t want another pawn shop near their homes.
Several of these neighbors showed up last week to voice their concerns to the city Planning Commission, which voted 5-1 to deny the Bocks’ application for a variance that would facilitate the move. The matter is expected to go to the City Council next month.
"They want to buy me out," Howard Bock said of the Lady Luck. "I said sure, but I need a place to move … it has to be peanuts for popcorn."
He needs a variance from a city code that prohibits pawn shops from locating within 1,000 feet of each other. There is already a Super Pawn store within about 20 feet of the proposed St. Louis Avenue location.
Bock, whose pawn license for the shop in question dates back to 1951, picked the St. Louis location because he already owns the building and it would keep his business close to casinos, which he says have a synergistic relationship with the pawn industry.
"Pawn shops are a vital tool to the gaming culture," said Bock, who charges a relatively low 6 percent monthly rate and says he supports many repeat customers who pawn and repawn the same items. "People need money to gamble with, they need money to get back home and that is what we supply."
While pawn shops may have an important place in the economic history of Las Vegas, it isn’t the kind of history the neighbors east and north of the proposed St. Louis Avenue location want to cultivate.
They’re trying to upgrade the housing stock in the historic Beverly Green neighborhood, which dates back to the 1950s and today has home values ranging from about $40,000 to a little more than $100,000.
They say it’s hard enough maintaining a buffer between the historic homes and the seedy section of Las Vegas Boulevard north of the Strip without adding another pawn shop to the mix.
"It is literally two very, very short blocks away from Las Vegas Boulevard, so we have to kind of keep an eye on the businesses that are allowed there," said Beverly Green resident Steve Franklin, a Realtor who goes by the nickname Downtown Steve. "We are just trying to protect the integrity of our neighborhood."
Heidi Swank, another Beverly Green resident who organizes cocktail parties aimed at building enthusiasm for downtown neighborhoods and historic Las Vegas homes, said another pawn shop would detract from the area.
"One of the aims of the (city) code is to avoid an overconcentration of certain types of businesses," Swank said. "I think we probably have enough pawn shops in our neighborhood."
Not surprisingly, Super Pawn also showed up in front of the Planning Commission to oppose the move.
Jennifer Lazovich, an attorney representing Cash America, the national company that owns the pawn chain, acknowledged the opposition appeared to be anti-competition but said the real reason was because Bock’s request goes too far.
"I would be a hypocrite and disingenuous if I didn’t acknowledge that to relocate existing pawn licenses can be a very difficult process," Lazovich said. "I’m merely suggesting a waiver of 980 feet in this particular instance is not appropriate."
Besides the Bocks, the only public support for the move came from Planning Commissioner Glenn Trowbridge and Todd Kessler, an attorney who represented Bock at the meeting and in the past has done work for Lady Luck owners CIM Group.
A representative of CIM didn’t return a call for comment.
Trowbridge, the lone commissioner to vote in favor of the variance, said success with the Lady Luck, which stands between Fremont Street and the soon-to-open Mob Museum on Stewart Avenue on which the city spent about $20 million, is important to the entire community.
Ace Loan is the only property on Third Street between Ogden and Stewart avenues CIM doesn’t control and the shop stands between Third and a large parking garage on Casino Center Boulevard.
"The Lady Luck has been sitting vacant for many years downtown. It needs to be refurbished and reopened," Trowbridge said. "There was nothing wrong with what people were saying about how it impacted their neighborhood, but sometimes you have to look at a little bigger picture."
Contact reporter Benjamin Spillman at email@example.com or 702-229-6435.