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Turism&Travel : TV show turns Las Vegas pawn shop into tourist attraction

Friday 30 July 2010

It has become the most unlikely tourist attraction in town.
And if the notion of a pawnshop as a Las Vegas tourist draw seems odd, just think of the Gold & Silver Pawn Shop as a more populist version of the Liberace Museum, but with portraits of Jesus and Jim Morrison instead of the glittering pianist.

On a recent, and very hot, morning, the parking lot of the shop, at 713 Las Vegas Blvd. South, looks like an expensive Dodge'em ride at a downscale carnival. Cabbies, tourists in rental cars and the occasional local fight for space. Visitors walk into and out of the store clutching bags containing T-shirts, bobbleheads and other swag to remind them of the time they visited the set of TV's hottest reality show.

It's called "Pawn Stars," it's on the History channel, and it is, TV numbers crunchers tell us, America's No. 1 cable series among adults ages 25-54.

Its stars, the multigenerational Harrison family, have become pop culture icons mostly by doing what they were doing before the cameras arrived. Now, thanks to the magic of reality TV, their shop is both a mecca and a must-stop for fans who come to Las Vegas.

The signs of fan-love are everywhere, from the exhausted expression on the woman telling her husband as they leave the shop, "Another check mark on your list," to the smile on the jubilant guy who walks out, marveling, "He's standing there, Big Hoss is."

On some days, there's a line of fans waiting their turn to enter the shop. Today, thanks to expected triple-digit temperatures, there's no wait at all.

Inside, though, the place is packed, as fans peer into glass cases, wait in line for a photo with Harrison family patriarch Richard Harrison and load up on souvenirs. But don't mistake these people as callow followers of JerseyShoreBachelorFlavorofLove-type reality geekfests. Here, fans say, history is the appeal.

Joel and Debbie Douthett, visiting from Jacksonville, Fla., call themselves huge fans of the show and, Joel says, "History channel junkies."

Joel has no illusions that, as with most reality shows, "reality" is massaged for dramatic effect. But he says both he and Debbie -- both are teachers, she of special education, he of ninth-grade science -- enjoy learning about history through the items customers bring into the shop.

And, OK, there's the interaction of the characters, too. Debbie is, in fact, leaving with a bobblehead of Rick Harrison that, she claims, is for a colleague who "kind of has a thing for Rick."

Visiting the shop also is a priority for the Wade family of Alliance, Ohio. "This is one thing the boys wanted to see," dad Dave Wade says. "They could care less about anything else."

Son Austin, 13, says, however, that he "didn't expect that many people in there."

Art Camacho of Anaheim, Calif., admits to being surprised that he'd become a fan of the show.

"We've been watching it since it came on the History channel," he says. "At first, we were kind of like, 'Come on. A pawnshop?' I thought reality TV was going the wrong way."

But, ultimately, Camacho finds that he is a sucker for "the characters and the family." Meanwhile, daughter Kaitlyn, 11, calls her visit to the shop "pretty cool. We saw Big Hoss coming out, talking to a person. It was pretty cool."

"Big Hoss" is Corey Harrison, representing the third generation of the Harrison clan, who, it turns out, is as surprised as anybody that his family's place of business would become a tourist destination.

"It's wonderful," he says, "but at the same time, if you told me two years ago there was any possible way we'd get 1,700 to 2,000 people (a day) through the front door, I would have called you a liar."

Harrison says that, since the show began, the store's staff has increased from 13 to 47 and the shop's merchandise has expanded from the usual range of watches, rings, swords, paintings and other cool stuff -- seriously: actual Olympic medals and an IBF championship belt! -- to also include less expensive mementos for tourists to take home.

If "Pawn Stars" has a superfan, it may be Inga Pershing, who says she came from Richmond, Va., just to get a hug from the elder Harrison.

Why? "I don't know," she says. "I like that man. I see him on TV and I wanted a hug from him."

She got it, too. Pershing says she came to Las Vegas with a few friends, but left them at Treasure Island while she went on her "Pawn Stars" pilgrimage.

Was it worth it? "Oh yeah," Pershing says.

And for a true history fan, there's Andrew Rosas, 11, of San Ramon, Calif., who came to the shop with academic credentials: Not only is he a fan of the show, but the show prompted him to write a school paper about Nevada.

Andrew says that what he likes most about the show is "seeing all the historical artifacts."

In fact, Andrew can make a trip to the Gold & Silver Pawn Shop sound like a school field trip. Why, he is asked, should somebody include a visit to the shop on their vacation itinerary?

Because, Andrew answers, "there are a lot of expensive and historical artifacts that are a part of American history."

And some pretty cool bobbleheads and T-shirts, too.

Autor: eTurboNews
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