After four years of working in the pawn industry, Clint Asbell decided to open his own store in 2009. But a traditional pawn shop was not what he and his wife, Sheena, had in mind.
“Sheena and I love nice boutiques [like those in] South Florida and Los Angeles,” he said. “I wanted to go outside of the box and do something a little more up my alley. We wanted to target people who wouldn’t come into a regular pawn shop.”
And so the Asbells opened Haile Jewelry and Loans in southwest Gainesville. With its brightly colored walls, well appointed displays and quality merchandise, it looks more like a specialty boutique than anything else.
“We do mainly fine jewelry, designer jewelry and designer handbags. We buy other things as well but that’s primarily what we keep here,” Clint said. “We went to a higher-end area of Gainesville and it fits our selection of inventory.”
With that philosophy, Haile Jewelry and Loans tossed aside the stereotype of pawn shops with shady deals, bars on the windows and a primarily male clientele. Instead it has become a staple for those who want top designer brands such as Gucci, Cartier, Louis Vuitton and Tiffany & Company, but not the designer price tags. The Asbells estimate that about 90 percent of their customers are female.
“The days of traditional pawn shops are going away,” Sheena said. “You’re seeing a more customer service-oriented business. This is not a dirty store. It’s a place where you can turn unwanted items into cash. Most ladies have ten bags hanging around, and we use the same one or two all the time. So it’s a chance to clean out your closet.”
Customers with items to sell can either pawn them (leaving an item as collateral for a short-term loan, which is paid back with interest to the store within 30 days) or sell them to the store outright. Jewelry and watch repair is also offered at the store by professionals with decades of experience in the industry, and its Ebay store (run by Sheena’s father and Clint’s mother) offers an expanded inventory of gold, silver, diamonds, designer jewelry, handbags, electronics and more.
As business grew over the next few years, the Asbells considered opening a second store – a plan that came to fruition more quickly than anticipated last fall when Clint’s father, Todd Ragans, faced a job layoff after 25 years of employment due to the closing of his company’s plant. Todd and his wife, Kim, summoned his family that night to break the news; within hours they were already working on a solution to keep everyone together.
“We love Gainesville and we’ve been here all our lives,” Kim said, explaining that her husband turned down transfers and promotions to stay in town and be close to their children. “We knew we could sit down and cry about this, or we could do something about it. That night we all just jumped into the truck and drove around looking at buildings [for a new store].”
In late 2012, the family opened 39th Ave. Buyers, a counterpoint to their Haile store, located in northwest Gainesville next to Pomodoro Café on 39th Ave. While one can find some of the handbags and jewelry that put the Haile store on the map, the new location focuses more on Apple products, flat-screen televisions, musical instruments and other items more popular with men. These offerings have prompted the family to affectionately refer to the new location as “his store” (as opposed to “her store” in Haile). The store – which is run by Clint’s parents and his brother, Michael, the store’s manager – engages in buying and selling transactions but not loan arrangements.
Both stores are bright and clean, with plenty of windows and friendly smiles from the family. Such an environment is no coincidence, as the primary goal of both stores is to make sure every customer feels at home.
“We want to make it an upscale store so that anyone – your mother, your sister, your daughter – would feel comfortable and safe coming in and selling or buying with us,” Todd said.
The Asbells’ concern for customers is matched by the love they have for the community. In just a few short years, they have become contributors to causes and events such as the March of Dimes, Puttin’ on the Ritz, VIVA for Hospice, Taste of Gainesville and the Alachua County Food 4 Kids program. The various food drives they run throughout the year benefit many food banks in the area.
The Asbells and their family see their business’s success as the reflection of changing attitudes in retail, brought on by a generation in which there is no income limit to being a smart shopper.
“Some of our biggest customers [have] lots of money,” Sheena said. “Just because you have a certain income, doesn’t mean you want to go spend money at retail places. It’s about bargain shopping and competitive pricing. This is what our age group and younger are comfortable with. This is what the future really is.”