Mike Fink and his pawnshop, Guitar Grave, have gone through plenty of transitions over the years.

He started with a copying- and printing-oriented business, shifted to a pawnshop, which then developed into a musical instrument-focused store for a while before transitioning back to a more traditional pawnshop. Fink has moved around geographically, too. He started in Biddeford in 1997, moved to downtown Portland for 14 years, and then two years ago relocated to South Portland.

Now, he’s looking to transition again, either by selling the shop outright or taking on a partner who can handle things in South Portland while he moves to Searsmont to be closer to family.

Through it all, running a pawnshop has maintained a hold on Fink.

“It’s a real interesting business, with new stuff and new people all the time,” he said. “There was a learning curve to get started, but it’s hard to lose money unless you buy stolen stuff.”

Fink said that when he started in Biddeford in 1997, he focused on copying and printing at the store, which he called Copyright in those days. That was his bread and butter, and it went well until some national office supply stores moved into Biddeford and business shifted to them.

After some friction with the Biddeford police chief and some city inspectors, Fink decided to move to Portland and soon renamed his store the Guitar Grave. That came about, he said, because an employee wanted to buy a new guitar but was seeking a discount, which Fink could get if he became a dealer for the guitar maker.

So he stocked new guitars along with pawned instruments for a while, which went well until Guitar Center, a national chain, opened in South Portland. Fink admits he felt he was being shadowed – for the second time, he had found a profitable niche and then a national chain moved to the area, cutting into his market share.

So it was back to running a more traditional pawnshop. Fink said that from a business perspective, it’s pretty good. People come in and put up items – watches, jewelry and the like – as collateral for one-month loans, at 25 percent interest. If they don’t repay the loan, the shop takes the collateral and sells it. Fink said that in recent years, he’s moved to selling more items on eBay or Reverb, a site for new and used musical instruments, because he can reach a wider audience.

Sometimes that wider audience is essential, such as the time a customer brought in a used portable electrocardiogram machine. It connected to computers through a plug that was becoming less common and was brought in by a customer who worked for a medical supply store, which was phasing out the item.

Fink doubted there was much of a market for the device, but he said he sold it fairly quickly to someone in Africa, through eBay, for a couple hundred dollars. The same customer bought an old stereo from a Salvation Army store and found it had relatively rare parts inside. It was sold, again online, for $4,000, so it’s good to keep an open mind, Fink said.

The downside of the business is when a customer brings in an item that’s been stolen.

“It used to happen a lot more when I was in Biddeford,” he said, and at the time he was there, power equipment stolen from worksites was a popular target of thieves. If someone pawns a stolen item, Fink said, the police confiscate it and the pawnbroker is left in the cold.

Another occupational hazard is break-ins, Fink said, with damage to the store being the main problem.

“More often than not, it costs more to replace the glass than the stuff that was stolen,” he said.

Fink’s store has been broken into six or seven times, he said. Thieves generally look for items they can grab quickly, such as jewelry and electronics.

In Portland, Fink said, his main irritant was anti-abortion protesters who used to yell outside the Planned Parenthood clinic not far from his Congress Street store.

“I would lose my voice yelling at them,” Fink said, adding that he was irritated by how the protesters harassed young women going to the clinic.

He moved to South Portland in August 2019, after his landlord in Portland decided not to renew his lease. Fink was hoping for a one-month extension, he said, because September was a big month for cruise ships, and crew members were regular customers, shopping at his store for phones and electronics.

But his landlord wouldn’t budge, and he found a space on Main Street in South Portland. Fink said his landlord there has been fairly flexible, cutting his rent during the pandemic, but now the rent is going back up and business is still off, so he’s looking to sell.

The cost, he said, is $35,000, plus the value of whatever inventory the new buyer would like to keep on hand. Fink said he’s also willing to take on a partner, figuring he could handle some of the online sales from Searsmont.

It’s such an interesting business, he said, that he wouldn’t mind keeping a hand in it.

But he doesn’t plan to commute regularly to South Portland.


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