Hardcore Pawn: Chicago keeps it real on truTV

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Last week, the second installation of the hit television show, Hardcore Pawn, which runs on the network truTV, broke out on the block with sky-high ratings. Some might say it has to do with the personality of the show's new pawn stars.

Hardcore Pawn: Chicago features the everyday behind-the-scene happenings of brothers Randy and Wayne Cohen, owners of Royal Pawn, located at 428 S. Clark St. in Chicago, who bill their shop as "the baddest pawn shop in Chicago." The Cohen brothers, who came into the pawn business after their father, are talkative, animated and not to mention hilarious (perhaps even so as a business practice).

"For years, customers of ours said we should do reality TV," Wayne said.

Eventually, when approached by truTV for the continuation of the series, it all seemed a match.

According to truTV, the show drew more than 2.1 million viewers to rank as the network's biggest series launch ever. Hardcore Pawn: Chicago also scored truTV's biggest series debut ever in delivery of key demos, including adults 18-49 with 1 million viewers and men 18-49 with 602,000 viewers.

Royal Pawn is one of the city's largest and oldest establishments in the pawn and gold-buying business. The two brothers said they disagree on most things, except when it comes to finding the best deals for the business and their customers.

"Me and my brother don't get along," Randy said. "But we love what we do and love the people that we make deals with."

Talking over the other, his brother piped in.

"Our shop and the pawn business in Chicago has that old Maxwell Street feel," Wayne said. "But we think people like dealing with us and feel comfortable here because we're good to the people who are our customers."

Randy said they run everything in the shop through a database maintained by the Chicago Police Department. While gold and other jewelry remain perhaps the lion's share of what is pawned and bought these days, Royal Pawn also makes deals with customers looking to buy or sell not only jewelry but also musical instruments, sports memorabilia, electronics and stereo equipment.

"We can make someone a good price on anything," Randy said. "But, if someone doesn't have an ID, we don't do business."

Perhaps the one and only one deal the Cohen brothers weren't able to make involved tickets to the 2005 World Series, which the Chicago White Sox won.

"I called up a friend of mine - a huge baseball fan and a Cubs fan - telling him I had just got some tickets to one of the World Series games here in Chicago," Randy said.

What followed, he said, was that his longtime friend declined and told him to "stick those tickets you know where."

Whether they are buyers of jewelry or other popular pieces, the brothers mention that they have long had consistent customers or "regulars" from all over. Last week's debut episode brought a boost in customer traffic, including a dozen travelers who came up from Kentucky just to see Royal Pawn.

"Everybody wants a deal," Randy said. "I don't care if you're poor or you're a millionaire. We get millionaires walking in here all the time. Everybody is looking for something at a good price."

Moreover, for Randy and Wayne Cohen, the pawn business is just something that is in their blood.

"If there's one thing I'd say we take from the old man," Wayne said, "it's personality. Personality and knowing how to talk to people is important."