NEW YORK TIMES - Clinging to Beverly Hills Lifestyle, via a Pawnshop
via the New York Times
By CHARLIE LeDUFF (NYT)
BEVERLY HILLS, Calif., Feb. 17, 2003 — Some may not realize that in these murky and difficult days, the rich and the artificially beautiful are suffering, too.
Take the case of one Beverly Hills socialite. She has no money, because her soon-to-be-ex-husband controls their investment portfolio and bank account. Nevertheless, a divorce lawyer requires a cash retainer, and so the woman with nowhere else to turn takes her four-carat engagement diamond to a pawnshop.
There is just one little problem: unknown to her, the diamond is a fake.
Please do not call it a pawnshop, not in a neighborhood where appearance is two-thirds of the way to fabulous. Refer to it instead as an establishment of collateral lending.
”I tell people I’m a jeweler and a lender,” Ms. Zimmelman said. ”Pawnbroker doesn’t fit me, but people always figure it out.”
There are at least a half-dozen such businesses in Beverly Hills, ranging from the mangy to the urbane. The oldest and arguably the most elegant belongs to Ms. Zimmelman. Hers is not a storefront, but on the third floor of a bank skinned with green glass. There are no guitars or chain saws or leather jackets hanging on the walls. Rather the shop is adorned with Picassos and Warhols. There is no silver in the jewelry cases, strictly gold and precious stones.
Today, Beverly Loan celebrated 65 years of business. In these uncertain economic times the company is doing quite well, Ms. Zimmelman is happy to report.
”In this town, image is everything,” she said. ”In this economy, I find that people are overextended and nervous. They’re waiting to get paid or they’re worried about cash flow and war. That’s where I come in.”
A steady and predictable category of people files through her door these days.
There are the dot-comers who are realizing how much they liked the taste of money. ”I work with a lot of new-economy types with worthless stock options,” Ms. Zimmelman said.
There are the overextended. ”It takes a lot to have a Beverly Hills address,” Ms. Zimmelman said. ”People don’t want to go to the bank and tell them they need a little something to get them through the month. They wish to keep such matters private and undocumented.”
There are those with incurable tastes. ”Plastic surgeons like to be paid up front,” Ms. Zimmelman said matter-of-factly. ”We get a lot of big-chested women.”
There is the saddest group of the lot, the divorced and separated women. They are the bread and butter of Ms. Zimmelman’s business, and they are a study on human nature.
”If a woman hates a man, she may sell her ring,” Ms. Zimmelman said. ”But most times, hope springs eternal, and she just borrows on it thinking maybe things will turn around.”
Ms. Zimmelman will accept almost anything of value. For instance, an actress once brought in a bra of rubies and diamonds in exchange for a $10,000 loan. Ms. Zimmelman has handled $600,000 diamonds, sports cars, even a gold dental bridge from someone’s dead grandmother. Her clients include a Saudi Arabian princess, doctors, lawyers, producers, even working girls. Ms. Zimmelman demurs when asked to list her clients, past or present.
”Discretion is our business,” she said.
And though she does occasionally cater to down-in-the-heels celebrities, Oscar, that 24-karat bookend, has never adorned her shelves.
”Technically, Oscar belongs to the academy,” she said. ”Oscar cannot be legally bought and sold.”
A pawnshop works on a percentage basis. A customer brings in goods and has four months to pay back a loan, plus interest, or to extend it for another four months. Items valued at more than $2,500 are charged 4 percent a month and lesser items at a higher rate. If after four months the borrower does not pay the bill, a notice is sent warning of forfeit. If the borrower still does not redeem the property, it belongs to the pawnbroker, who then sells it.
The business is not as easy as it may seem. Consider the way Ms. Zimmelman came into it. In 1987, the store’s security guard was fast asleep when a customer walked into the store and shot Ms. Zimmelman’s uncle and cousin dead. The uncle and Ms. Zimmelman’s father, Louis, were partners in the pawnshop, and soon after, Ms. Zimmelman, then a housewife, became her father’s partner.
Life in Beverly Hills is tough for some people these days, Ms. Zimmelman said. The markets are weak, people are between checks, between a rock and a hard place, and still have an image to maintain.
”The blondes, they love to come in here and show off their new busts,” she said, motioning to a customer who had just arrived to pawn some jewelry.
It seemed that the blonde was in town working for a couple of weeks and had as yet failed to meet Richie Rich.
”Isn’t that something?” Ms. Zimmelman said. ”Appearances are expensive, you know.”
This entry was posted on Friday, February 7th, 2003 at 11:07 am
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