Whenever I encounter a perception that is not a reality, I tuck it away. I’ll use that in a story someday, I say to myself.
I’ve had this one under my hat for well over forty years. It’s too bad I can only share now that not all pawnbrokers are cut from the same cloth.
Sure, most of my experience with pawn shops came from those seedy shops seen in the 70s detective shows like “Kojak” and “Starsky and Hutch.” Those were dark places with a sweaty man behind the counter, always with a wink and a nod to the fact that somebody stole the item in question during a burglary.
Well, I have good friends in the pawn business. I must replace the words seedy and dark with one word that might appear misplaced: compassion.
You see, my friend, 92-year-old Bangor Jeweler/Pawnbroker Orlando Frati, passed away last week. But it will be more than family and friends who miss him.
I bought my first chainsaw from Mr. Frati. I couldn’t afford a new saw, not for a minute. He found one for me and knew the previous owner—a regular at the shop. I cut no less than twenty cords of tree-length wood with that saw, and it had plenty of miles on it before I picked it up for half price. I was just a kid with an old house and two woodstoves; he let me pay it off in four installments, taking it home to cut wood before I came close to paying it off. He knew a radio disc jockey didn’t make enough to pay it off in one payment, and it was getting cold outside. He didn’t charge me any interest, by the way.
Many do not know, and cannot picture, that a pawnbroker is a lender of last resort for many who have never darkened the door of a bank. They’d be turned away before a pull of their credit report. For a long time, it was a necessary cog in the wheel of slow financial progress. In the days of yore, when someone needed a few bucks to pay the mortgage, there was no Facebook Marketplace to sell the kitchen mixer or the old golf clubs in the basement.
They went to and trusted their local pawnbroker.
If you have a more positive view of banks over most of these local neighborhood lenders, you are a product of good advertising polished only by the sight of shiny shoes topped off by a cheap suit from Penneys. You could be tainted, like I was, by watching Kojak.
Never have I seen a banker tell a customer that it was okay to pay their loan off next month—longer if it helped, along with, “I hope your husband feels better soon.”
I have seen Mr. Frati and his son do that on multiple occasions, sometimes knowing that the person lied about why they couldn’t pay their bill and pick up their pawned item. It didn’t matter. I’ve heard Orlando senior say, “They’ll be back,” knowing they merely needed a little more time.
Orlando Frati’s pawnshop on State Street in Bangor, Maine, has been a staple for over century; you only last that long with integrity and a conscience. Regular customers, sometimes down on their luck, have entrusted them with holding and securing their treasured belongings, heirlooms, watches, and— sometimes—kitchen appliances until their financial outlook improved.
Later in life, as a cop, I received many phone calls from the Frati men about someone coming to the shop trying to sell something that really “didn’t seem right.” I solved multiple burglaries before they were reported due to the diligence of the Fratis. Knowing the difference between a customer needing a little more time and a miscreant trying to sell off his alleged “grandfather’s gun collection” takes someone who knows their customer base.
Long before it was a city ordinance for local re-sellers to report the items they purchased that month, Mr. Frati would walk his handwritten list to the police department, dropping it at the counter for the detectives to see, “just in case.”
When his business came under far more scrutiny and regulation than antique shops, video stores, and some big box sellers who could buy from customers with zero oversight, he brought his list to the station, knowing that many items that he used to buy were being sold surreptitiously to others who did not fall under the pawn broker ordinances. Ordinances were based mainly on the belief that only licensed pawnbrokers dealt with stolen merchandise. It’s just not true. I’ll attest to all of it.
Beyond his compassion for his customers and friends, Mr. Orlando Frati was a lovely man with a love for his family and a work ethic that no longer exists in society. A veteran of the Korean conflict, he was only gone from the shop for a couple of years to fight a war. He came back with a different outlook on the world but continued treating his customers with respect, some down and out because of life’s downturns, some because of continuous bad choices. I never saw the latter treated any differently, either.
He was still coming to the shop well into his 92nd year. He’d always offer me a doughnut. “Tim, it looks like you are losing weight,” he’d say, smiling in the wry way that indicated that he noted I’d gained far more than ten. He was there every day, cracking jokes, making people smile, and still loaning money on stuff that would never sell if the customer didn’t return to pick it up.
So, you go ahead and trust your banker; they probably have a degree and a Mercedes. I’ve met some good ones. But, if I am down on my luck and have no business in a bank, I’ll go where friendship is earned, and trust is freely given, even if you can’t get it all paid off by next month. “They’ll be back; I’ve known them for years.” Orlando Frati meant it, and he will be missed in the City of Bangor.
Rest in Peace, Mr. Frati; I’ll miss you, my friend.