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Jake’s Pawn Shop has deep roots

Jake’s Pawn Shop has literally changed from head to toe over its 60 years of operation in Bainbridge.

The business, started by Romanian immigrant Jake Wolffe, who came to this country with his family when he was 7, is now owned and operated by Jake’s daughter, Roslyn Palmer, and her husband, Jack.

On July 1, 1949, Jake Wolffe wrote a check for $100 to the City of Bainbridge with the notation, “city licenses.” That seems a rather hefty price for the day, but it was to start a business called Jake’s Annex. It was located on the north side of East Water Street in what is now a parking lot next to the Nelson Building. There Jake and his wife, Bella, began selling such merchandise as dishes and dry goods.

Two years later the business moved across the street to the building now occupied by York Engineering and Meig Company. At that point the name was changed to Jake’s Pawn Shop, the name it retains today.

It wasn’t until 1980 that it moved back to its present location on the north side of the street.

Although Roslyn grew up in the store, she wasn’t totally involved until her father’s health began to fail. She and her husband, Jack, first began helping out, then purchased the business in 1984, about the same time their daughter, Mycla, was born. She too grew up in the store.

“Daddy kept coming in to the store each day to hang out right up until three weeks before he died at the age of 83,” said Roslyn. He had his own chair where he could keep an eye on business and visit with the customers.

Palmers recall that initially there were six or seven people in their employ. They say there were many retail businesses up and down the street that generated lots of foot traffic.

“We are a destination business now,” adds Roslyn.

Although the word “pawn” was added to the name in 1950, the Palmers say it was never the biggest part of the business.

“Daddy did a lot of pawn, but it was more a retail operation.”

They recall the hottest selling items through the years were men’s felt hats. Jack said at one time they stocked felt dress hats in three colors, (gray, black and brown), in all sizes, with three different width brims. There was such a large inventory of hats that one whole section of a back wall, shelved from floor to ceiling, was filled with hats.

Two salesmen from hat manufacturers made regular sales calls at Jake’s. They were such good customers that the manufacturer even printed the name, “Jake’s Pawn Shop” in gold letters on the inside of the brims. That eventually changed to just “Jake’s, Bainbridge, Georgia” after some of the men complained that when they removed their hats in church they didn’t like the public to see they bought their hats in a pawn shop.

The Palmers say the hat business began to decline in the mid 1990s as people adopted more casual lifestyles and the demand for men’s dress hats all but disappeared.

A dozen or so men’s felt hats remain in stock, and Jack said he sold one to a young man just last week, but hats purchased at Jakes today are likely to be hunting caps, Western hats, or Panamas. Buyers could possible still make use of the old-hand stamping machine used to put the initials of the buyer inside the hat.

In the old days Jake’s also carried such obsolete items as women’s cotton stockings and at Christmas they stocked up on children’s toys.

“There weren’t the ‘marts’ that you have now for buying toys,” explained Roslyn.

Jakes also carried up to 40 or 50 different novelty trick items. One whole display case was devoted to such things as sneezing powders, whoopee cushions, fake eyeballs in plastic ice cubes, and various other products used to play jokes on people. Some of Roslyn’s fondest childhood memories involve her trips to the specialty shop in Atlanta where they purchased this merchandise.

Today, the store is a mix of yesterday and today. The store has what the Palmers refer to as a “museum wall.” Actually, there are a couple walls devoted to antique tools, World War I helmet, old Army surplus items and things people bring to add to the collection. These are not for sale, although some customers attempt to purchase them.

“People who grew up coming to Jakes are now bringing their children and grandchildren to the store to see the items they remember seeing from their childhood,” said Roslyn.

Now to the toe

Today’s biggest selling items at Jake’s are boots, and a large inventory of all sizes and styles are available. Other leading items are work clothes and camouflage clothing. Jake’s are authorized dealers for Case knives, have a good selection of cast-iron cookware, guns and hunting gear, and musical instruments.

“We try to carry things people can’t pick up just everywhere they go,” continued Roslyn.

“Pawn is a very negligible part of what we do now,” said Jack. He explained how electronics used to be big items for pawn shops, but today they can be so inexpensively purchased that the value for pawning or repairing just isn’t there.

“We’ve become a throw-away society,” added Roslyn.

Jake Wolffe and Jake’s Pawn Shop have been subjects for several news articles over the years. He was not only a successful businessman, but was very active in civic affairs. He lived and worked through the good years when Southern Airways was here, and he survived when it closed, leaving businesses hurting all over town. He was a member of the Committee of 100 who worked to bring in new industry, and also concerned himself with the issues of the Flint River. He was the first-named Man of the Year, and he and his wife were both active in the work of the Lions Club, serving at the state level.

Jake’s has continued to attract attention under the ownership of the Palmers.

In October 2008 the business was awarded the Most Innovative Business Anchor award at the Georgia Downtown Conference held in Douglasville after being nominated by the Bainbridge Main Street and Tourism Department.

The award was presented to “an established downtown business that has demonstrated a creative/effective strategy to continue, expand or attract new patrons to downtown with its business model over the years.”

This year, 60 years after the start of the business, Jake’s will hold the annual February sale, begun by the Palmers in the early 1990s. At that time H&R Block was located next door to the shop and rapid refunds were offered for tax filers. It didn’t take Palmers long to notice that long lines of people were standing on the sidewalks waiting to have their taxes figured and were leaving with cash in hand.

In 1994 they decided to close the shop on the morning of the first Wednesday in February to prepare for a big sale offering markdowns on nearly everything, but especially to sell out the cold weather gear. When they re-opened for business at 1 p.m. long lines of shoppers were waiting to take advantage of the bargains.

After that first successful February sale other downtown merchants began to join in. Now it seems most merchants have found their own best time for sales, while Jake’s has continued to experience their biggest sale of the year commencing the first Wednesday of February, and running through half-day on Saturday.