Friday, November 27, 2015

Looking Good for 150

Don't call Carver W. Reed a pawn shop. Call it an icon to be proud of.

Looking Good for 150


Last week, when Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden was rushed to Thomas Jefferson University Medical Center to be treated for a stroke, news cameras tied up traffic at 10th and Sansom, cameras pointed at the doors, waiting to film the big story of Biden's arrival at the hospital.

If they'd turned around and filmed the goings-on inside Carver W. Reed, the small shop achoring the intersection across the street from the hospital, they'd have caught a bigger story.

Inside, City Counciman Jack Kelly was issuing a proclamation to shop owner Tod Gordon, owner of Carver W. reed, in recognition of the 150th birthday of the shop, which is the most dignified, high-end pawn shop you'll ever stroll into. In a region that has lost a heartbreaking number of iconic businesses - Wanamaker's, Strawbridges, Budd, Scott paper - this is one operation that has never once shut its doors.

Nothing against Biden, to whom I wish a full recovery. But we could all learn something about health and longevity from Carver W. Reed.

Where some pawn shops deal in broken, cheesy merchandise, Carver W. Reed trades only in gold and jewelry - beautiful stuff that glistens with the same dazzle you'll find in any display on Jeweler's Row. 

Some of the items are baubles that were abandoned by their owners, who never retrieved them after leaving them with the shop as collateral on loans they then didn't repay. Others were bought by Tod for resale to the public, the way any jewelry-store owner would.

I admit to being a huge fan of Gordon, whom I wrote about in 2005, when his shop celebrated its 145th birthday. Here's what I wrote back then:

"You can only imagine what people needed loans for back in 1860, when founder Carver W. Reed opened his shop on Market Street, across from City Hall.

"It moved into its squat, three-story building at 10th and Sansom in 1888, and has been there ever since. Which is kind of a miracle, given how neighboring storefronts were eventually bulldozed for parking garages and the high-rises of Jefferson.

"The original Carver Reed hired Tod's grandfather, who bought the business (and kept the name) and passed it to Tod's father, who passed it to him.

"That means that over 145 years, only two families, at two locations, have overseen the business. Think of it - the Civil War, a World War, a Depression, another World War, the '60s, the turn of a new century - have all come and gone in that time.

"In the go-go '90s, Tod had many chances to sell his operations to a few pawn-shop chains whose owners were eager to appropriate the reputation of the well-regarded Carver W. Reed name. But Tod resisted.

" 'This is a business of trust," says Tod. "I'm the owner, I'm right here. Customers have been coming to us for years. Would they gonna trust a company whose owner is a zillion miles away? Would you? '

"It's ironic, isn't it? Tod works in an industry in which everything is evaluated for its possible sale price. But when he looked at all that his company's name stood for, he deemed it priceless.

As has his daughter, Becky Gordon, who has just joined her dad in the business.  (That's Becky, with her dad, in the photo at the top of this post.)

She hadn't planned to. She thought she'd just work there for a summer, before starting post-graduate work to become a physician's assistant.

"I loved it so much here, I couldn't leave," Becky told me last week, after the proclamation ceremony. "It has everything I love. You meet every kind of person you can think of. You help them. You do sales. Every day is something different. My dad says you should work in this business for a year before you decide if it's what you want to do. I could do this forever."

Forever happens a year at a time. Here's to another 150, to a business and a family with the kind of staying power every vibrant city needs.

Daily News Columnist
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About this blog

When my phone rings here at the Daily News, nine times out of ten the caller begins the conversation with, “Yeah, so what happened was…”.

Because this is Philly, the caller doesn’t say, “My name is Bob” – or Mary – “and I wonder if I could have a moment of your time?” Philadelphians are too direct for that. They just say, “Yeah, so what happened was…”, and then tumble into a tale they think oughta be shared with a wider audience. I love getting these calls (even the ones where it becomes clear, after 30 seconds, where the caller sowed the seeds of his own misery), because they give me chance to connect with fellow citizens in a way that no other job allows. Well, okay, no other job for which I’m remotely qualified.

That’s why my blog is titled “So What Happened Was…”. To me, it’s the quintessentially Philly way of saying, “Once upon a time.” When I hear it, I know a good story is coming. And I can’t wait to see how it turns out.

Ronnie Polaneczky has been an award-winning columnist for The Philadelphia Daily News since 1999, offering a front-steps perspective on every aspect of city life, from the sublime to the stupid. In her past life, she was the editor-in-chief of Atlantic City Magazine, associate editor at Philadelphia Magazine and a fulltime freelancer published in Ladies Home Journal, Good Housekeeping, Redbook, Reader's Digest, Men's Health, MarieClaire and others. She lives with her husband, daughter and various pets in the city's Fairmount section, where she dreams of one day singing The National Anthem at an Eagles game. In addition to her column and blog, you can enjoy Ronnie's musings in podcast form here.

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