We are America’s oldest pawn shop, established in 1890 in Lynchburg, VA.
For 127 years and counting.
L. Oppleman Pawn was founded in Lynchburg, VA by Jacob and Lena Oppleman and named after Lena Oppleman in 1890. Their son, Ike Oppleman, took over operations during the 1920’s.
A young man named Aaron Somers began working at the pawnshop in the 1930’s and fell in love with the business. After Ike’s passing, Aaron acquired L. Oppleman and continued the legacy, choosing to maintain the prestigious name of L. Oppleman as a staple business in Lynchburg, VA. His son, David Somers began working at the store in 1974, and took over operations after Aaron’s passing in the mid 1980’s. His son, Ryan Somers, now operates L. Oppleman as a pawnbroker and GIA-certified gemologist.
L. Oppleman calls itself “America’s Oldest Pawn Shop,” a claim almost impossible to prove. The story goes back to 2001, according to Darrell Laurant of The News & Advance. Harold Dambrot of the Four Aces Pawnshop in New York searched for the nation’s oldest pawn shop before the 2001 national convention of National Pawnbrokers Association and concluded that L. Oppleman was the clear choice.
David Somers, who has been running L. Oppleman for more than two decades, prefers to say it’s the oldest pawn shop operating under the same name. Pawn shops change hands a lot, (although, as we’ll see in a moment, L. Oppleman is a notable exception), and often the name changes with ownership. So perhaps there’s a pawn shop out there that’s older but has changed names over the years.
Somers took over Oppleman from his father, Aaron Somers, who began working in the pawn shop in the 1930’s and kept the name after he acquired it after Ike Oppleman died. Ike had taken over the operation from his father, Jacob, who founded the company and named it after his wife and co-owner, Lena.
If you’re scoring at home, that’s four bosses in 120 years, or as many as General Motors has had since 2000.
David sat down with me to talk about how L. Oppleman has handled the challenge of a tough economy, the advent of eBay, and perpetual space shortages to house a whole lot of Lynchburg’s stuff.
Q: Who are your customers?
It’s interesting. I have a very high-end customer that comes in here. It took a long time to build that up, in jewelry. That’s really a trust relationship. You need a lot of knowledge about the product. We have a high-end clientele, and we get a lot of blue collar. Both of them are looking for value –one because it’s basically where they can afford to buy things, the other they’re just looking for better value on higher end
We’re still missing that middle segment, which is your broadest area of people. I haven’t heard it in a long time, but I’ve had a middle class person come in here and go, ‘Oh my god, I’m in a pawn shop,” and walk out the door.
We’re breaking through that barrier. And shows like [History Channel’s] Pawn Stars are helping to show another image of the pawn shop.
Q: Are you a counter-cyclical business? Do you do well when everyone else is struggling?
Probably one of my favorite quotes is this is the type of business that does really good in good economic times but better in bad economic times. It’s kind of recession-proof.
Our percentage of forfeitures is not increasing. Right now, we have a pick-up rate of about 65 percent [65 percent of the people who pawn an item return to pick it up and pay off the loan], which is pretty typical.
Q: Does your pick-up vary?
In good times, our pick up rate is 80-85%
The pawn shop is probably a better economic indicator than anything. I can tell you before you hear it on the news what’s coming. If I’m having a 50% pick-up, I can almost guarantee you it’s a depression.