Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

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May 8, 2013

Reality TV's new stars: Small businesses

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Rick Harrison, star of "Pawn Stars," opened a gift shop, too. He sells mugs, T-shirts, bobbleheads and refrigerator magnets, in the back of his Las Vegas pawn store.

Harrison says the souvenirs bring in about $5 million in revenue a year. The pawn business brings in about $20 million a year, up from the $4 million before "Pawn Stars" aired.

The show, which follows people as try to sell or pawn items ranging from gold coins to classic cars, also stars Harrison's son, his father and an employee named Austin "Chumlee" Russell.

People have been lining up outside the pawn shop since the reality show began airing on History in 2009. The store installed misters above the line to keep fans cool under the hot, Las Vegas sun.

Fame has disadvantages. Harrison says he wears a hat and sunglasses to disguise himself, even on visits to IHOP for pancakes with his kids. During an overseas vacation, he was swarmed by fans at the Tower of London

"It amazes me," says Harrison. "I'm just a fat middle-aged bald guy, but people still want to meet me."

Harrison is cashing in on his celebrity. He was hired as a spokesman for Procter & Gamble Inc.'s Swiffer cleaning wipes and he wrote a book, called "License to Pawn," about his life and business. (Harrison declined to say how much he made on those deals.) He also rents out a 1,300-square-foot area in the back of the pawn shop's building for private parties. The fee can range anywhere from $5,000 to $50,000, depending on the number of people invited and whether Harrison or one of the shows stars to drops by.

Despite his fame, and busy 40-week-a-year filming schedule, Harrison says that his pawn business comes first.

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