THEAGE.COM.AU - Stone broke in Beverly Hills
March 30 2003
When the rich and famous are a bit short, they see their broker — pawnbroker, that is. Charlie LeDuff reports.
Some may not realise 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, so the woman with nowhere else to turn brings her four-carat engagement diamond to a pawnshop.
There is just one little problem: Unknown to her, the diamond is a fake.
“The poor lady,” says Jean Zimmelman, owner of the Beverly Loan Co. near the corner of Santa Monica Boulevard and Rodeo Drive. “She was better off without him.”
Please do not call it a pawnshop, not in a neighbourhood 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 jeweller and a lender,” Zimmelman says. “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 Zimmelman.
Hers is not a storefront, but is located 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 jewellery cases, strictly gold and precious stones.
Recently, Beverly Loan celebrated 65 years of business. In these uncertain economic times the company is doing quite well, Zimmelman is happy to report.
“In this town, image is everything,” she says. “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 realising how much they liked the taste of money. “I work with a lot of new-economy types with worthless stock options,” Zimmelman says.
There are the overextended. “It takes a lot to have a Beverly Hills address. 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,” Zimmelman says 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 Zimmelman’s business, and they are a study in human nature.
“If a woman hates a man, she may sell her ring,” Zimmelman reveals. “But most times, hope springs eternal, and she just borrows on it, thinking maybe things will turn around.”
Zimmelman will accept almost anything of value. For instance, an actress once brought in a bra of rubies and diamonds in exchange for a $US10,000 ($A17,000) loan. Zimmelman has handled $US600,000 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. Zimmelman demurs when asked to list her clients, past or present.
“Discretion is our business,” she says.
And though she does occasionally cater to down-at-heel celebrities, Oscar has never adorned her shelves.
“Technically, Oscar belongs to the academy. 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 $US2500 are charged four per cent per month, and lesser items 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 Zimmelman came into it. In 1987, the store’s security guard was fast asleep when a customer walked into the store and shot Zimmelman’s uncle and cousin dead. The uncle and Zimmelman’s father, Louis, were partners in the pawnshop, and soon after Zimmelman, then a housewife, became her father’s partner.
Life in Beverly Hills is tough for some people these days, Zimmelman says. The markets are weak, people are between cheques, 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 says, motioning to a customer who has just arrived to pawn some jewellery.
It seems the blonde was in town working for a couple of weeks and has as yet failed to meet Richie Rich.
“Isn’t that something?” Zimmelman says. “Appearances are expensive, you know.”
-New York Times
This entry was posted on Friday, May 30th, 2003 at 6:08 pm
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