Fifty years and counting
The showroom floor is expansive. Literally thousands of pieces of merchandise line the aisles, but there is no clutter. Each item has a home, whether it is the mini jukebox, the unclaimed diamond ring now for sale in the showcase, the hunting gear lining the walls, or an electric guitar that begs to be played by expert hands.
For the past 50 years, Jimmy Clark and his uncles, Tommy and Harold Triplett, have been doing business as American Trade and Loan Co. Over the decades, the market for used merchandise at bargain prices has resulted in steady growth. There never seems to be a shortage of customers these days, thanks in part to an economy slow to recover.
“For us, we don’t realize recessions,” Clark said from his nondescript office. “People come here for used items and to save a lot of money.”
Uncle Harold was no stranger to pawn shops. Back in the fifties, he saw his share between summer stays in Connecticut and his winter bartending gig in Miami, Fl. Uncle Tommy took a different route, earning a journalism degree from the University of Tennessee but instead finding work at Western Carolina Electric Supply, right here in Lenoir.
“He was very smart, he knew how to make money,” Clark recalls.
The Triplett brothers pooled their savings and started American Trade and Loan, setting up shop a the corner of Main Street and Harper Avenue, a 1,200-square feet building adjoining the police department at the time. It was 1963, and the going was rough at first. The brothers often would borrow money from relatives to stay open. Tommy eventually bought Harold’s share of the company, but he also had political ambitions, and decided to run for city council. Meanwhile, relatives pitched in to help out in the store, often for free. Clark was working next door as a cop. Seeing dollar signs, Clark bought the shop outright in 1987. Three years later, he relocated to its current location on harper Avenue.
“We needed the parking,” Clark said.
Wife Alice left her job at the Broyhill Furniture main office to keep the books and pay the bills. She is credited with keeping the finances straight.
Most anything can be found in his store. Leaf blowers, golf clubs, fishing lures, music CDs, even hand-made birdhouses. Guns, however, are his biggest draw, accounting for about 30 percent of his sales. Loans are still an integral part of the business.
The most interesting item ever brought in to be sold cannot be printed. Besides that unusual find, other items crossing the counter include a new Bible still in its box, a pair of wing-tip shoes, and an ACC Championship ring once belonging to former Duke basketball standout Kenny Dennard.
American Trade is one of the few small businesses still thriving since 1963.
“The secret is to treat people with respect,” he said. “We see a lot of people who are down and out. They deserve the same respect. That’s what it’s all about.
“We also have a good group of employees. All have been here at least 10 years, and one for the past 30. They are dependable and trustworthy. That means a lot.”
Monday will be exactly 50 years since the doors first swung open. The day will be low-key, save for a few giveaways and banners commemorating the day.
Just the way its been since 1963.