Rick Harrison of the TV hit “Pawn Stars” discusses his show, store and political views—including the mounds of government regulation he feels need to get out of American businesses’ way. Sean Chaffin reports for Townhall Magazine.
The temperature reaches into the 100s on this stifling hot June day in Las Vegas. Despite the heat, there is a line down the block at the World Famous Gold & Silver Pawn Shop. A doorman counts off visitors for entrance as others exit, many carrying out purchased memorabilia or merchandise from a vastly popular TV show—the History Channel’s “Pawn Stars.”
The store is located on Las Vegas Boulevard between the famous Strip and downtown Las Vegas. The surroundings are not what one expects of glamorous Sin City. A tattoo parlor sits nearby and shady motels a few blocks up. But the area does not deter people from waiting in long lines in the heat to get a glimpse of the shop and, for a lucky few, a shot to be on the show.
“Pawn Stars” has become a national phenomenon. The premise was pretty simple when the show began: it followed the deal-making between buyer and seller at a pawn shop. TV Guide has called the show “one part Antiques Roadshow, a pinch of LA Ink and a dash of COPS.” Rick Harrison, one of the show’s stars, runs the store along with his son Corey “Big Hoss” Harrison and his father Richard “Old Man” Harrison. It’s one in a growing trend of TV shows focusing on small business—from mom and pop restaurants on shows like Gordon Ramsey’s “Kitchen Nightmares” to wheeler-dealers hoping to find a diamond in the rough to sell on “Storage Wars.” Ranging from antiques and art to rare books and historical firearms, Pawn Stars frames the items bought and sold on the show in historical context. Like the show’s opening says, you never know what’s going to come through that door.
“The weird thing about the Gold & Silver Pawn Shop is that people come on vacation and they bring stuff here to sell,” says Harrison. “They come here to see what we’ll give them for it. Mostly, it’s people from out of town.”
“Pawn Stars” debuted in July of 2009 and eventually became the History Channel’s top-rated program.
The success of the show hinges on the unique items brought in for sale and the likeability of the Harrison family, along with Corey’s childhood friend Austin “Chumlee” Russell, who also works at the shop. And the Las Vegas setting adds to the intrigue. But the show also provides a look at how the free market operates—and an owner who understands and appreciates capitalism.
A Businessman’s Nemesis: Regulation
Unlike many shows on television, “Pawn Stars” offers unique insight into small business and capitalist concepts. A deal at Gold & Silver Pawn must always leave room for Harrison to add his own profit for resell. He often talks about the costs of paying employees and running the business. If a deal doesn’t allow room for a profit, you’ll be taking it home with you.
As a businessman, Harrison eschews political correctness and is no fan of government’s intrusion into private enterprise and the ability of businesspeople to manage their own companies. Certainly, these “pawn stars” also have no problem with the Second Amendment, often heading to the local shooting range to test-fire antique guns the guys are thinking about purchasing (often with some kind of wager on the line).
What are some of the biggest challenges Harrison believes businesspeople face in Las Vegas and nationally?
“For any business: regulation, regulation, regulation,” he says. “Everything is insane. It’s the amount of BS just piled on top of a bigger amount of BS you try and get through to try and stay in business, including the amount of tax forms. Most people don’t realize the amount of tax forms the small business guy has to go through.”
With libertarian leanings, Harrison loathes the taxes and regulations he feels stifle business and burden small business owners.
“There’s a gazillion different business license fees,” he says. “And just keeping up with all the regulations—it just doesn’t stop.”...
In recent years, Harrison has become friends with Mark Levin, conservative talk radio host and president of the Landmark Legal Foundation. Harrison has even appeared on the show, and the two men recently got together in Washington, D.C.
“A year ago, he came into town. He was a fan of the show and wanted to have lunch,” Harrison says. “We started talking on the phone a lot. He’s a great guy. I’m a pretty big fan of him.”
On a recent show, Levin interviewed Harrison about the program and gave his own thoughts on the show.
“As those of you who listen know, I’m hooked on the show ‘Pawn Stars,’ and I like the cast, and I like to call Rick Harrison my friend,” Levin said.
On the program, Harrison talked about his own history with the federal Bureau of Land Management. Harrison had an idea for a television show to be filmed on government land in Southern California at the Glamis Sand Dunes. On a busy weekend, he told Levin, thousands of people head out there to drive and hang out in the sand dunes. Harrison hoped to film a show about this interesting subculture of people. Despite the low budget planned for his show, the filming would have employed more than 100 people. Harrison applied for a film permit on the federal land. The result? He was rejected on the grounds of “budget cuts.”
Harrison thought it was politically motivated and felt he had to speak out.
“I’m one of those guys who believes in next to zero government,” Harrison told Townhall. “They just screw everything up.”