By Brandon Cantwell
Firearms, jewelry and guitars are just some of the treasures bringing visitors to one of downtown Youngstown’s oldest businesses.
Sandel’s Loan Inc. on West Federal Street has been open since 1948, with its ownership spanning multiple generations.
Youngstown State University alumnus Brett Fine is the vice president for Sandel’s. Brett is the great-grandson of the shop’s founder Ben Fine, and he joined the business in 1990.
According to Brett, customers typically pawn items when they need money to pay bills and debts, but only about 65% come back for their items.
During the pandemic, pawn shops stayed open because they were considered essential businesses. Brett said top sellers such as firearms, jewelry and gold were some of the most pawned items throughout that time.
“Gold and silver have always been a mainstay in pawn shops, and diamonds. You know, firearms have grown over the past 15 to 20 years,” Brett said. “We were in more of the electronics business for basically the mid to late 80s, with televisions and VCRs and CD players.”
According to Ohio Revised Code, when people sell items, the shop isn’t allowed to sell them for two weeks to give police time to check if any were reported stolen. However, Brett said stolen items rarely come through anymore.
“The pawn shops in general have been good with working with the police departments and we have a good rapport,” Brett said. “People that steal merchandise — they’re really not going to come to us because we do take identification.”
Brett added most cases with stolen items involve family members, who typically don’t press charges.
Sandel’s is roughly a 10-minute walk from YSU. Brett said YSU students seldom visit the shop, but when they do, they look rather than sell.
“I get some frequently who pop in to look [rather] than to bring merchandise in here — more browsing and looking around,” Brett said.
Large diamonds, tennis necklaces and bracelets are some of the most expensive items Brett has seen in his 34 years with Sandel’s. He said the shop is always buying items but has a preference toward gold and diamonds as they’re easily movable.
“We’ll pretty much buy anything because people ask for a loan value and a buy value. But generally, it comes to gold and diamonds. I prefer to buy that because it’s just a quicker flip as far as gold,” Brett said. “Generally, [gold is] scraped out. So, if you buy it and it’s something you can’t sell, you can scrap it out. Or if it’s a diamond, I can sell it to a diamond wholesaler that we deal with.”
Longtime employee Jay Skinner has been with the shop for 43 years. Skinner said January is one of the shop’s busier months.
“Usually the winter months we’re busier because people have to pay higher gas bills, entertainment,” Skinner said. “Whereas summer months, we’re slower because people can go to the park. They can do more stuff that costs less money.”