When Howard Isman opened Royal City Jewellers and Loans in 1955, he couldn’t have known that 65 years later his small shop would become Canada’s largest independent pawnbroker.
Today, Michael Isman continues his father’s legacy of respect, dignity and fairness for all who come through the doors.
Isman’s late father began the company with his wife Marjorie and two employees. Now, Isman’s 22 employees are trained to believe that the man who comes in to pawn his beloved guitar is just as important as the man seeking a large loan with a precious diamond ring as collateral.
Contrary to popular belief, pawnbroker loans translate into lifesavers for customers who lose their jobs, have trouble with their mortgage, or other financial straits denying them from meeting their basic needs. However, pawnshops have a bad rep because of the stereotypes portrayed in Hollywood films.
“There are several misconceptions out there about pawnbrokers,” Isman says.
One of them is the belief that only those who are troubled or seedy borrow from pawn shops.
“That is completely untrue,” says Isman. “Most of our clientele are the hard-working lower or middle class.”
Secondly, pawnbrokers are believed to carry stolen merchandise.
“Statistically, less than 1/10th of one per cent of the items brought in are stolen,” he stresses, adding pawnbrokers require government issued photo identification.
“People believe that borrowers never come back for their items,” Isman says. “In fact, people come to us for short term assistance and typically the loans are repaid within two to three months.”
Lastly, pawnshops are believed to charge exorbitant interest rates.
In reality, Royal City Jewellers and Loans charge the lowest interest rate of any pawnbroker in Canada.
Besides loans, this landmark business is a bargain-hunter’s dream. Purchasers, like Sara Walker, come in to buy everything from diamond rings, electronics, musical instruments, sporting goods and much more.
Walker first visited Royal City Jewellers and Loans when she was 19, on the recommendation of her parents.
“My first piece was an emerald ring surrounded by diamonds,” says Walker, who has now shopped at Royal City Jewellers and Loans for 23 years. “I paid $129 and it was worth double that.”
Walker now sports a stunning Royal City Jewellers and Loans’ two-carat oval diamond solitaire ring, which is appraised at $15,000. “I paid $7,000 for it,” she says proudly, “I was able to pick out my diamond from the vault.”
What impresses Walker most, besides the prices, is the friendly customer service.
“It’s a very family-oriented and welcoming store with a bright and clean atmosphere,” Walker says, adding that staff at the store is tremendously honest. “Two months ago, I went into the store with my best friend’s future fiancé to purchase a Tiffany-style diamond ring for her. He was as impressed as I was.”
Paint contractor Earl Godfrey echoes Walker’s sentiments. He has been both a borrower and purchaser.
“Recently, I went in to buy my granddaughter diamond earrings,” says Godfrey. “Ken (Basso) got the goldsmith and before I knew it, he created a pair of beautiful diamond earrings.”
In the eighties, when Godfrey was just starting his company, times were lean. He went to Royal City Jewellers and Loans for a loan. “I was in dire straits because a customer hadn’t paid me and I had bills to pay,” says Godfrey. “Everyone here treated me fairly and kindly. They were, and still are, awesome.”
Ken Basso, its general manager for the last four of the 32 years he’s worked here, can sum up Royal City Jewellers and Loans’ longevity and success in one word – integrity.
“We treat everyone with respect, regardless of the reason or amount they need to borrow,” Basso says. “We understand how difficult it can be to part with something that means a lot to our customers.”
Royal City doesn’t stop at loans and sales - it adheres to a culture of corporate philanthropy.
“For more than 20 years, we have made annual donations to the Greater Vancouver Food Bank,” says Isman. “We also make smaller donations throughout the year to non-profit organizations.”
Additionally, for the last 15 years, Isman endows three yearly $500 bursaries to deserving students attending Douglas College.