‘People needing money has a stigma but don’t walk in with your head down – walk in with your head high and ask ‘How much for this?’
Prince or pauper, every customer is the same to Karl Pountney, the businessman who has seen everything from boxing belts to canal barges pass through his hands. Whether his customers are down on their luck or millionaires, nothing that finds its way onto his counter is a surprise to pawnbroker Karl.
People from all walks of life have come to Uncle’s The Original Pawnbrokers pawn shop for more than 30 years, dangling their necklaces and Rolex watches hoping to get a good deal.
Karl, 55, has worked in the business since he was a teenager and prides himself on being the people’s pawn broker. Some of his customers want to pay for a house while others are struggling with their bills.
Uncle’s has two branches in Bordesley Green and Aston, the latter not far from Villa Park. He said: “We are the people’s pawn brokers in Birmingham because we look out for the people. Before you walk in you know what you’re going to get.
“We deal with customers as we would want to be dealt with, you are not walking into a cold, clinical place where we say ‘here’s your money now get out of here’. They call beforehand saying what they have and I tell them what the valuation could be and what else they should bring.
“Within ten minutes you will walk out with your money. You’ll find a lot of different people come from all sorts of nationalities because they need help paying their electricity and fuel bills. All sorts of issues.
“People needing money has a stigma but we try to change that, don’t walk in with your head down. Walk in with your head high and ask ‘How much for this?'”
The most bizarre items Karl has pawned include a Lonsdale Belt, the oldest championship belt in British professional boxing, and a canal boat. So where did Karl’s love affair with the trade begin?
He said: “When I was 12 I worked in a jewellery shop on a Saturday and Sunday for £11 per week, the owner was friend of my dad called ‘Ray the duck’ because he had a stammer. He asked if I wanted to work there but I knew nothing about jewellery, I would get everyone lunch and help out. He would gamble in the back with people and I’d be inside with the assistants.
“The manager, who was a lovely lady, would look at jewellery with her beautiful manicured nails. I never forgot that.
“It looked professional when she handled jewellery. She taught me about it and I also learned how to set watches which customers would come to me for. I stayed there for three years including working in the summer holidays.
“The owner also taught me all about business so when I got my O-levels, my dad wanted to start a shop in Aston and we decided to turn it into a pawn shop.”
The family business started in 1982 with humble beginnings and rose in popularity with Aston and Bordesley Green residents. They were featured in the Birmingham Post in 1991 when Karl pawned a Bentley Turbo R estimated at £125,000.
Visitors felt an immediate trust and friendly warmth from Karl and his dad, while some staff members are still with Uncle’s more than 30 years later.
With the influx of Romanian residents in Aston, Karl has even taught himself their language to properly chat with them. The Pountney legacy is also set to continue as Karl’s son is joining the business to coincide with Karl’s father stepping back fromafter a cancer diagnosis.
Despite juggling hospital visits and Uncle’s, Karl has no plans to leave his beloved shop. He said: “I love what I do so why would I leave? One thing my grandmother taught me is we are all equal.
“Some people have millions in the bank and some have just £10 but one is not better than the other. We will go out of our way for you.”
We would like to give a special thank you to Birmingham Mail for capturing our story.