Best Pawn Shop

Crown Pawn
1726 14th St. NW, (202) 332-2522
Photograph by Darrow Montgomery
The section of 14th Street NW between Thomas Circle and U Street is mostly unrecognizable from 46 years ago, when Crown Pawn Shop opened just south of S Street. Riots wiped out many existing businesses. Auto showrooms left, following residents to the suburbs. When local real estate turned around, sleek restaurants and bars replaced the lingering junky shops, including nearby Sam’s Pawn Shop. Today, noise from new construction is nearly constant.

But through all those years, Crown Pawn has stuck around. The matriarch of the family-owned business is Gail Kaslani, who vets incoming merchandise with a gemologist’s headset. Her daughter, Jessica Barakat, does most of the public speaking—like in 2010, when she had to persuade the D.C. Council not to lower the interest rate charged by existing pawn shops, which threatened to put them out of business. A posse of her customers even testified, praising Kaslani’s shop as a friendly bank that offers loans in $12 increments.

Even though pawn shops aren’t usually welcome in gentrifying corridors, Crown feels more like a quirky variety store than a predatory lender. It sells more DJ equipment than saxophones these days, but 14th Street’s musical legacy still lives there in the hanging ranks of electric guitars, keyboards, violins, and drum sets. Crown’s other specialty is power tools, with shelves crammed with sawzalls, drills, sanders, and other gadgetry. Serious buyers peruse the shop, looking for bargains. But plenty others come through just to browse and say hello.