All over the UK there is one type of establishment that is bucking the trend and expanding fast. Pawnbrokers are spreading rapidly and as the recession bites, they are becoming the preferred way for thousands of people to raise much needed cash.
Some of the success is due to the change in the public's perception of Pawnbrokers. A few years ago, Pawnbrokers were seen as unscrupulous places which made their money from fencing stolen property, loansharking and informing to the police. They were operated out of dingy shops with wire cages over the windows by short, greasy men with brown teeth called Reg 'Snotty' Green or Limping Alan.
Nowadays Pawnbrokers are completely different. They take pride of place on the high street and trade under names like CashExchanger or GoldSwap, and have bright and open shops with glass display cases containing expensive looking items.
Reg and Alan have been replaced by name-badged Steve and Tom who was employee of the month for February. It's all Chinos and Polo Shirts and a tie for the Manager. They exude an air that says 'this is in keeping with ebay - nothing illegal going on here'. They, like their establishments, are smart and successful. There's a Mini Cooper parked on the path outside, and Sunday opening; just within the allowed times, mind.
Which of course leaves a hole in the market. For where do you go now if you need to pop your old Mums wedding ring for a day or two because of a tip on the 3:15 at Haydock? Where can you get weaponry or body parts, no questions asked and at a moments notice, or drop £50 to find out who did the Sub-Post Office on Tuesday? Who now sells blank MOTs, fake ID or porn on VHS?
And what of that niche workforce? Who will now employ Reg and Alan, people who in a previous era would have been called 'unwholesome?' Indeed, what will happen to their minions, Sid 'Stanley' Hutchinson and Big Dave Rottweiller? I think we all know that Alan will go for a one-stretch for prising lead off church roofs, while Reg is busy getting himself on the sex offender's register. Dave will go back to his old job of demanding money with menaces. Nobody will have seen Sid for a while.
The golden balls may have taken over from the tarnished balls, but someone will come along to pick up the slack. They may not offer money back guarantees or take Nectar cards but they will fulfil a valuable service in the dodgy economy. And when you look at legitimate business these days, is that any better?