Inside Manhattan’s Most Unique Pawn Shop: Chanel Bags, Diamond Rolexes and More

Spencer Cain
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Inside Manhattan’s Most Unique Pawn Shop: Chanel Bags, Diamond Rolexes and More
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When you’re dining at Lower East Side hotspot Beauty & Essex, there are a few things you can expect. First, you’re in for a delicious meal that should always consist of lobster tacos and Kobe beef carpaccio. Second, there’s an endless supply of free champagne in the ladies’ lounge. And third, you may leave your dinner with a new Rolex or a pair of crocodile skin Louboutins.
If that doesn’t seem like a normal souvenir from a night out to you, you clearly haven’t seen the tiny but plentifully stocked pawn shop at the front of Beauty & Essex. Overflowing with luxury designer goods, there’s nothing else in the world quite like it. We spoke with Lauren Kaminsky, the third generation pawn shop princess who runs the establishment. Below, she discusses what a pawn shop really is, the most high-end items she’s seen and more. Be sure to click through the gallery above to go inside!
The Vivant: Tell us how you got into the pawn shop business.
Lauren Kaminsky: My grandfather was a watchmaker, so he was around these high-end watches and soon realized the value of gold. He started taking in items and supplying loans, and then opened up Gem Pawnbrokers in 1947. That was the where the pawning started in my family. Gem quickly grew into a bigger corporation, and today there are 30 stores. In 1996, my father separated from the family business and started EZ Pawn Corp. We have now grown to 11 stores, including this one. That’s why I’m here today.
Many are confused as to what exactly a pawn shop is. Can you explain it?
It’s so unbelievably different than what people think it is. A pawn shop is a place where you can get a collateral loan. When you have something of value (it depends on which pawn shop you are dealing with—but at EZ Pawn stores, we only take in precious metals, diamonds, high-end watches, high-end instruments and a few other things), we hold onto it and lend you money for it. The contract you sign states that you have four months to come get the item. At the end of four months, you have two options: You can either pay the full amount of your loan (what we lend you — plus interest) or just pay the interest and keep the item with us for another four months. The stereotype is that pawn shops are for people at rock bottom, and that’s completely not true. I’ve seen people who do need the loan to get by, but I’ve seen others who just want quick cash and don’t want to negatively impact their credit. If after six months we haven’t heard from you, your item can go on sale—which is where we get these amazing pieces.
Have you seen anything hilarious or particularly crazy while on the job?
One day, I happened to be at one of our shops working on the floor, which I rarely do. A truck pulled up with a ton of statues all carved out of bronze. This guy comes in and goes, “How much can I get for my statues?” I was like, “I’d love to help him out — but how am I supposed to weigh that and determine a price?” You never know what’s going to come in. That’s the exciting part for me. Every day is so different.
What’s the coolest item that’s been brought into the pawn shop?
Recently, we took in raw diamonds (diamonds before they’re cut). That’s something I’ve never seen before. They look just like pebbles. I would have probably just brushed them away—and then you touch them! They have a very light feel to them, and make a lot of noise when they hit each other. It was just so cool to see a diamond in the rough. But it was stressful—we weren’t sure if should sell them as raw goods, or have a diamond cutter make them into something. We’re still debating on what to do. This is not your typical nine to five!
What’s the coolest thing you’ve acquired from the pawn shop?
There’s a Chopard necklace that came into one of our stores that is just so special to me. I’ve never seen anyone else wear it. It’s one of those unique pieces—it’s a sun in rose gold. You would never know it’s Chopard besides, of course, the floating diamond.
What’s the most expensive thing that has come through?
We recently got a rare watch into our shop. It was our largest loan—$80,000! It was all gold and exquisite.
How does the nightlife vibe of Beauty & Essex play into the pawn shop?
I think that it brings together a great group of people that are fashionable, stylish and just love the high-end value of jewelry. They come in here and expect to have a fine dining experience, and take in Beauty & Essex and all of its luxurious décor and food and they don’t know what’s hitting them when they walk in. There are the stylish patrons that come to the restaurant that love the crystal jewelry and the Chanel bags that we have. There are those that know the value of Rolexes, that come in and ask about the prices. They know all the right questions to ask. It’s great to have a knowledgeable and upscale clientele.
Are people more likely to purchase pieces on their way in or out?
Of course, it’s always on the way out! A few glasses of wine doesn’t hurt the shopping experience. Usually, you’ll come in and see something that you like and you go sit and eat and think about it. Then, you scoop it up as you’re leaving!
Beauty & Essex Pawn Shop, 146 Essex Street, New York City, beautyandessex.com.

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For those just passing by, the storefront of Beauty & Essex is somewhat unassuming. Little do they know a plethora of chic items and fabulous food lies behind the weathered (but charming) exterior...

Photo: Victoria Barton/

Lauren Kaminsky, the Vice President of her family's business EZ Pawn Corp, shows off one of her favorite pieces, a stunning Rolex that retails for $12,000. To the right is one of the shop's most coveted items (that regularly sells out), a skull clutch. 

Photo: Victoria Barton/

This is just a taste of what you can find in the pawn shop. You'll notice an exquisite pair of Christian Louboutins to the right, and an incredibly unique Chanel 2.55 bag in fabulous patchwork in the back of the case. To acquire this rare piece, you better be ready to throw down $4,800. 

Photo: Victoria Barton/

This vintage cash register is actually not for sale, but that didn't stop a diner from offering $4,000 for it one evening. Kaminsky said they were not looking to sell it — but is reconsidering after hearing the value the shopper attached to it! 

Photo: Victoria Barton/

What's a loyal boyfriend to do when their girlfriend is busy pillaging piles of vintage Louis Vuitton? Luckily, this pawn shop has the gents covered. Tons of sports memorabilia (including a signed plaque by NBA icon LeBron James) are positioned opposite the trays of jewelry. 

Photo: Victoria Barton/

Gorgeous guitars line one of the walls. While this may not be the most accessible item to take with you in your cab, the selection of instruments here is surprising and incredible. 

Photo: Victoria Barton/

This original Batman illustration by famed artist Bob Kane is a must-have in your collection. 

Photo: Victoria Barton/

Here, Kaminsky shows us one of the most sought after items in the shop — a chic Chanel scarf. If we're being honest, it was a bit hard to walk away from this shoot without purchasing this. 

Photo: Victoria Barton/

A stunning saxophone, signed photograph of musician Martin Sexton and a pair of sunglasses makes for a rather eclectic (but fascinating) display case. 

Photo: Victoria Barton/

Just past the pawn shop is the restaurant where lobster and chorizo hash and braised chicken meatballs await.

Photo: Victoria Barton/

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