Terry and Beverly Higgins have been in the business for nearly 50 years
BLOOMFIELD — Bloomfield Pawn Shop owners Terry and Beverly Higgins have enjoyed being pawnbrokers here for nearly 50 years. But as they both near 80 years old, they have finally begun to pare down their shop's inventory with hopes of selling the business by the end of this year.
Their store is the oldest continuously running shop in town, and the couple would like for the next owner to continue operating the pawn shop because the community needs one, they said.
"We obviously love the pawn shop. We've been here every day since we first started," Terry Higgins said. "Our three kids grew up working in here — our grandchildren, too. We've tried to go out of business, but, somehow, they won't let us. I probably could have sold this 10 years ago if I would have laid my ears back and done it."
The Higginses grew up living a block apart in Anadarko, Okla., met during high school and have been married for 59 years.
"I have never pawned anything that was alive, thank goodness," he said. "Lots of guns, saddles, camper shells, you name it."
After moving to the area, Terry Higgins worked in the oil field for the El Paso Natural Gas Co., but he decided to make a change and get into the pawn business.
They opened the pawn shop in 1965 on the 400 block of West Broadway Avenue on the corner of North Seventh Street, but they quickly ran out of room, with hundreds of yards of shelves piled high with items.
"The corner (of North Seventh Street and West Broadway Avenue) was so well organized, you couldn't get into it," he said.
When a larger storefront with 2,700 square feet — a shuttered Circle K gas station and store on a one-acre parcel — became available in 1993, they made the move two blocks west with the help of 30 to 40 friends who helped the Higginses close their first shop's location on a Friday, move their inventory truck load by truck load down the street over Memorial Day weekend, and open for business at the new location the following Tuesday morning.
Road construction on West Broadway Avenue — which is also U.S. Highway 64 — by the state Department of Transportation started in 2010 and was completed last year at a cost of $16.5 million. Many businesses along the city's main thoroughfare bore the brunt of the road work, and the Higginses said they had to borrow money year after year to keep their doors open.
In 2009, their retail sales totalled $495,000, he said. In 2013, that income dropped to $195,000. Terry Higgins said they wanted to sell the shop and retire prior to the construction, and in 2005 he valued the property at $1 million, but never could secure a buyer. Now he estimates the property and shop's value to be half what it once was.
"Back before I got my super highway, we were doing all right. Quite a nip, it really was," he said. "We nearly bit the dirt the last five years because of the highway. Out of those five years, three of them were really tacky. We waited this long, so we'll see what happens."
One glimmer of hope might come after the city completes its beautification project along the medians and rights of way along the city's main thoroughfare. Terry Higgins said he hopes the enhanced curb appeal of the highway might be enough to help him sell the business.
Earlier this year, he replaced the freestanding sign by the curb that blew down in a storm and designed it so the Bloomfield Pawn Shop was represented only by its initials, a ribbon-like capital B in Bobcat blue woven through the initials PS in red underneath the stars and stripes waving in the top corner. A secondary sign underneath sums up his favorite types of items in the shop — "Indian Jewelry and Crafts, Guns, Ammo, Tools, Tack."
"In better days, we were really a combination pawn shop and sporting goods store, before the big box stores moved to town," he said. "We used to have 500 firearms for sale at one time."
Robert Gurule said he and his Aztec family have been customers for years. He now lives in Albuquerque and works as a truck driver, making the Higginses' pawn shop a regular stop when he comes through town.
"I always stop in to see if he's got something I don't need," Gurule joked. "They're good people. Like family. This is part of the community. They're some of the finest people you'll ever meet. They don't overcharge you for anything, and they're really friendly."
The Higginses have never used any online or print advertising, relying solely on word-of-mouth, they said.
"Our customers treat us real good. I enjoy the people," Beverly Higgins said.
In 1997, the Higginses sold the west half of their property and a Burger King went up, which was a mixed blessing, Terry Higgins joked.
"I got sick of Whoppers the first year because (Burger King) gave me about 100 free passes to eat them for free," he said.
While Terry Higgins said he needed to earn a living to raise his three sons, charging customers steep rates was not part of his business plan.
On Wednesday, a 71-year-old longtime customer came by to reclaim his duffel bag of tools he'd pawned for a $30 loan in May. Typically, pawned items for a cash loan receive a standard term that the pawned item is to be reclaimed within 90 days or it can be sold. Even though the 90 days had passed a month before in this case, Beverly Higgins fetched the man's tools from the storeroom, returned the tools to the man with a smile and collected a profit of $10.74.
Terry Higgins said that his only business model has been simple.
"The Golden Rule still works in any business I've been in," he said. "It's worked good in here. We haven't had any major problems or have anybody jump up and down and raise heck over a transaction. We've gotten along pretty peacefully."
That's an easy rule to follow when every customer is treated like family, Beverly Higgins added.
"My folks had a grocery store, and they were really nice to people and people were nice to them," she said. "We told everybody who worked with us, 'You could be walking in their shoes. You treat them with respect.' And we've seen people go from here to way up here. We're always glad to see people come in our doors."
The Higginses could have made a better living in another state, they said, because laws regulating pawnbrokers in New Mexico offer strong protections for customers.
"You can go to Colorado and pawn a $100 item. You come pick it up, it's $120. And you have just 30 days to do it," Terry Higgins said. "In New Mexico, you pick it up, it's $110, but I have to hang on it for 90 days at 4 percent (interest). The interest here is not really great."
To illustrate his point, Terry Higgins offered an example of how pawns typically work in New Mexico. According to state laws, pawnbrokers can charge $7.50 or 10 percent of the amount loaned.
"Let's say you got a $500 gun, needin' a couple hundred. It'll cost you $220 to pick (the gun) up," he said. "I put it in the back. Ninety days, I gotta keep it. Fair shake — for the customer. They come back (before 90 days expire), I'm going to make $20, and I'm going to handle it twice, be responsible for it, insure it, keep that (pawn) form for 20 years in my back room and be responsible for it to the (state) administration."
The idea of selling the shop is hard to accept, but Terry Higgins said he has come to terms with it and hopes it goes to someone who will continue the business. This month, the couple issued their 267,000th pawn ticket, a milestone he said was a sign of the good fortune they have enjoyed in the community.
"We have lived through a lot of good things out here," Terry Higgins said while standing in the parking lot out front, watching cars whiz by. "I'd just like to see it stay what it is. It's a good old building. It's a fascinating business and a ton of fun. The people just love you, and we think it ought to stay."