ASHLAND Many local pawn shops agree: Tri-State residents are armed against the pandemic. Literally.

Firearms and ammunition have been top-selling items at pawn shops in the region for the last month or so. As loan institutions, pawn shops are considered essential businesses and have been allowed to remain open through the pandemic.

Travis Stutler, manager at Steve’s Pawn and Jewelry in Flatwoods, said the store usually sells more jewelry, skateboards and other outdoor sports items during this time of year and they make  more loans. Now, he said, they’re selling firearms and items generally used indoors, like electronics, silver coins and guitars.

“This is the stay at home, play-at-home crowd,” Stutler said.

He said the store, which allows three shoppers at a time to comply with social distancing guidelines, has been sold out of electronics since March and loans have been down.

“People are holding on to their stuff and have their stimulus checks and they’re getting late tax returns,” he said. “They’re buying panic goods, like guns.”

Cher Kiser, store manager at Tri-State Pawn and Jewelry in Ashland, said her store reduced hours in the beginning of isolation because business slowed a bit, but she said the store has gone back to its original schedule.

“Once the stimulus checks came out, people got a little more money and we saw an uptick,” Kiser said. “People are buying electronics, and firearms sales haven’t been this high since after 9/11.”

She said the business has sold out of many weapons. In fact, the shelves are bare.

“I’ve had a lot of regular customers come in and say, ‘I’ve never seen you guys this bare in more than 20 years,’” she said. It’s been good for business, though. “We’ve been lucky enough to keep our full-time staff at full-time hours and part-time people are still getting hours.”

She said they’re staying busy keeping the place clean, too.

“Every two days, we’ll sanitize the whole store — shelves, countertops, products and all common areas,” Kiser said. “We’re also using hand sanitizer and have masks for the employees and staying 6 feet apart. There’s never more than 10 or 12 people in the store at one time. We haven’t had to ask anyone to leave and customers have been cooperative when we’ve had to ask them to separate.”

our our Because of the extra money in pocket, she said many have paid off their loans and picked up their merchandise.

“We’re not doing a lot of loans,” she said. “We’re kind of used to that. It’s tax time and there’s usually a lower influx of pawns.”

Pawn World, with stores in Ashland and Grayson, is seeing more loan requests, owner Chris Hutchison said but are buying more, too.

He said people are shopping for “anything and everything,” from jewelry to televisions to lawn care equipment to gaming systems, but “people are going stupid over firearms.”

He said neither store can keep enough product in stock.

“This has been our record sales the last couple of months,” he said, noting the extra money from stimulus checks is likely the reason. He said he’s concerned about the financial future of pawn shops.

“In a couple of months the stimulus checks will stop and we’re going to get all this merchandise back and we’ll have a warehouse full of stuff,” he said. “It’s going to be an interesting time for pawn shops.”

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