By: Dean Bossenbroek
The visit to Rick's Olde Gold is a unique, annual highlight on the Thinking Outside the Big Box Tour. Ricardo Paoli's pawn shop on Willy Street is still a shop. It's got minimal square footage packed to the gills with oddities, essentials you didn't know you needed, collectibles, and enough jewelry to pay every divorce lawyer in Madison many times over. In an era when our country's desperate economy has created a sizable niche, nay, a giant gap filled by pawn supercenters and television networks dedicated to producing reality shows based on the industry, stepping into Rick's Olde Gold gives one the feeling that the shop’s calendar hasn't been flipped in a couple of decades. It's a bit of a time warp.
Preparing the kids, John and Jaheim, for this leg of the tour, I tried to impress upon them the length of time I have known Rick. When they heard me say, "Ricardo hired me as a line cook, when he was the kitchen manager at Ovens of Brittany on State Street in 1985," their 21st century brains boggled. John had some trouble with the math, "that's like over 15 years ago." True statement.
I remember that Friday afternoon job interview as clearly as the passage of 33 years will allow. It took place in a cramped office hazed blue with Newport cigarette smoke and jammed with oddities, essentials you didn't know you needed, collectibles, and enough kitchen grease to season six egg pans. Earlier that day I'd been unceremoniously shitcanned by Gino Gargano, owner/dictator of Gino's Italian Restaurant across the street from Ovens. When Ricardo asked me, why I left Gino's I was straight up, "Gino fired me because I spilled some liquid margarine in the walk in cooler."
Rick took a long drag squinting and nodding, "Hmm. So, ah, was this a big mess? Did you clean up the margarine? How long have you worked there?"
I shrugged, "It was about eight ounces - a moderate sized splootch. I was in the middle of cleaning it up, when Gino found me. He was pissed. He fired me in two languages – Sicilian and English. I've worked there 30 hours a week for a year and a half."
Rick chuckled, stumped out his smoke into an overflowing ashtray. "Yeah, I've heard he can be sort of . . . . . hmmm. . . . . short tempered." True statement. "So, ah, listen Dan, is it?"
"My name is Dean."
"Right, hmm, yeah, so listen, Dano, have you ever flipped eggs before?"
"Ah, well, you can learn that. See, it's all in the wrist. You can start at 6a.m. tomorrow."
And so began my relationship with Ricardo Paoli, eventual proprietor of Rick’s Olde Gold.
Last Tuesday, July 10, 2018 Jaheim and John were in attendance for this leg of the Tour. Anthony and Sergio were on hand as Tour Guides, as well. I dropped off Jaheim, John, Sergio, and Anthony at Rick’s Olde Gold, where they were greeted by Rick, Heather, and Tom. For the first part of Rick’s talk, I did some legwork for future Tour stops. (Thank you Gail and Martin!) Rick talked to the boys about their goals, dreams, and expectations for themselves after high school. He got them thinking about backup plans, if the National Basketball Association doesn’t work out. Rick is careful to not step on people’s dreams, and takes a common sense approach to realizing personal success.
He also encouraged the boys to begin thinking about what type of small business they could run in which their skills would be put to good use. Jaheim decided he might like to try running a gym. John settled on the idea of running a basketball training facility. Once that conversation had run its course – about 45 minutes in the back room amongst all manner of electric guitars suspended from the ceiling – we moved back out to the front of the shop, where all the action occurs. John wanted to know how many customers show up on a given day. Heather estimated about 30 people come in on an average day, which keeps things busy. Jaheim asked what the most expensive item in the shop is. Rick said some of the jewelry he had locked in safes would fetch the highest prices.
We were there until almost 3:30pm, and the boys did a great job of remaining engaged, asking questions, and listening to Rick and Heather. Including transportation back to Briarpatch, group ran from 1:30pm-3:45pm.
The next stop on the Thinking Outside the Big Box Tour is Stalzy’s Deli.
Thanks for reading and visit a small business near you this week.