State steps in after landlord seizes Hilton Head pawn shop

cconley@islandpacket.comSeptember 9, 2012 

Big Money Pawn

CASEY CONLEY, THE ISLAND PACKET

A Hilton Head Island pawn shop launched by two golf buddies in 2009 was forced to close last month, and the state's consumer affairs office has taken the unusual step of winding down the business.

Big Money Pawn was evicted from its Mathews Drive storefront in August for failure to repay a $50,000 loan, as well as $22,500 in back rent to landlords David and Kathleen Kudlo, according to court documents.

Pawn shop owner Nick Lopez agreed to vacate the business and cede the store's inventory to the Kudlos, documents show.

The S.C. Department of Consumer Affairs, which regulates pawn shops, is allowing people who pawned items at the store to redeem them from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. today, Oct. 17, Nov. 29 and Dec. 3. Patrons will need copies of their pawn tickets, the exact amount owed in cash and photo identification to get their belongings back.

Any items not picked up will be considered forfeited.

"It's our protocol, especially when they are being evicted," said Charles Knight, the department's staff attorney, of handling the pawn store shutdown. "Because once they are evicted, they can no longer have a certification to operate, so we have to wind down the operation."

This is the first time a Hilton Head pawn shop has been taken over by the state, and Knight said it's only happened a handful of times statewide.

The order to shut down Big Money Pawn came Aug. 10, Knight said, and the order was served the following week. Although the store's inventory remains intact, flyers taped to front windows explain the store has closed and outline the process for buying back pawned items.

As of Thursday, many customers still were unaware the store had closed.

Robert Austin of Hilton Head said he knew Lopez and occasionally visited the store. It had a "pretty decent" inventory, and Austin described the abrupt shutdown as shocking. "It's very unusual," said Austin, who owns a pawn shop in Columbia and stopped by Big Money on Thursday to poke around. "I've been in the business for 23 years, and I have never known this to happen."

Austin says the pawn business has held up during the recession, noting that loans on pawned items typically account for a sizable chunk of revenue. But because pawn shops also buy goods, the combination of issuing loans and making purchases could lead to cash-flow problems if sales decline.

But Austin didn't speculate on what caused Big Money to fail.

Attempts to reach Lopez through his attorney were unsuccessful.

For now, it's not clear what will happen to the remaining merchandise. Jonathan Mullen, an attorney with Finger & Fraser who represented the Kudlos, said his clients are not licensed to run a pawn shop and are considering their options.

Lopez, who ran a pawn shop in Beaufort in the late 1990s and early 2000s, and holds several patents, launched Big Money in 2009 with golf buddy Henry Fryt. According to a story in The Island Packet, the men invested about $100,000 in the business, which opened about Aug. 1, 2009.

Related content:

About Town: Golf partners become business partners in island pawn business, June 15, 2009

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