Niche Markets

By staff March 1, 2007

Want to Pawn your Plane?

There are plenty of places to hock a Rolex watch or that engagement ring that is no longer engaged. But if you’re looking to pawn a Gulfstream jet plane or a yacht, Bobby Todd is the man you want to see.

“We’re the pawnshop of the rich and famous,” says Todd, owner of Jewelry Brokers Inc., whose motto is “Up to $10 million when you need it most.”

Dressed in black pants and a black shirt, with salt-and-pepper hair grazing his shoulders, Todd met me in the parking lot of his shop on Constitution Boulevard near Phillippi Creek to talk about the business. Well, sort of.

A recently pawned red Cadillac Escalade and a jet ski were parked in the four-car lot along with Todd’s Hummer. The yellow building that houses Jewelry Brokers looks like a small jewelry shop, with an outside locked door that leads to an inconspicuous upstairs office. From my vantage point in the parking lot, it appeared that all the display cases were empty. “We have heavy security,” Todd explains.

I had hoped for a visit inside to see rows of diamonds and jewels and all kinds of expensive goodies, but Todd kept me outside while he talked with an exterminator. “Last year we had a flood and this year a rat,” says Todd. “And don’t print that.”

Todd and his wife have been running Jewelry Brokers for 12 years and are originally from Anchorage, Alaska. “They call me the Polar Bear,” Todd says. As for his shop, he stresses that “there are no housewares or skill saws here; we take cars, jets and planes.”

Todd says he can do loans for under $1 million in about 15 minutes—or as long as it takes to do a title search. “We’ve got a real strong group of principals that understand many, many needs,” Todd says.

His biggest, most recent pawn was a Gulfstream jet for $3 million. I want to know how you take possession of a jet and just how you store it, but Todd doles out information in inverse proportion to how he lends money. He tells me something about an aviation place in Atlanta and that’s about it. “We’re discreet and confidential; that’s our biggest thing,” he says.

I’m looking for tales of real estate agents in distress hocking $100,000 jewelry, but Todd says he doesn’t listen to the stories. “They start to talk and we stop them,” Todd says. “They come here in tears and leave happy.”

I’m figuring that if anyone would have a good barometer on the local economy it would be Todd, but he says his business has been pretty consistent.

The pawn business is highly regulated these days, but costs can be high if you want to reclaim your stuff. Monthly interest rates go as high as 25 percent, and you have 60 days to return the loan before forfeiting the property. Still, Todd says he has regular customers who like the easy access to cash.

“While you’re waiting for a re-fi or having a hard time making payroll, or want to go to Vegas without your girl knowing, you come to us,” he says.

Maybe next time he’ll let me past the front door.

Straight talk about WGAY.

Siesta Key resident Burt Sherwood is an unlikely creator of the nation’s first all-gay TV network. For one thing, he’s not gay. For another, the 78-year-old retired TV executive came of professional age back when Lucy and Ricky Ricardo had to sleep in separate beds.

But that didn’t stop Sherwood from dreaming up WGAY TV. With a mixture of cooking and style shows, including drag queen Bella’s shopping metwork, WGAY went on the local airwaves in Key West on Jan. 1. It also airs on Comcast in that market. Sherwood would like to add news and weather and broadcast all over the world, but for now, to see WGAY outside Key West, you have to access it on the Internet ( or via a broadband-connected cable-style box.

So far, there are no plans for WGAY to air on cable in Sarasota, where Sherwood came up with the idea last spring. Or rather, the idea intruded upon him.

After retiring as a top news executive at NBC in Chicago in the early ‘80s, the married grandfather of two started brokering low-power TV permits from his Siesta Key home.

The permits give owners the right to broadcast at a particular frequency that doesn’t have much range—perfect for community programming. Sherwood was perusing the “for sale” listings last year and one caught his eye.

“I saw Key West Channel 69 on a Web site,” says Sherwood, who started working in TV in 1947. “And I started to giggle, and then it clicked into place.”

With TV becoming more specialized—the Food Network, the Game Show Network—why not a gay network? Sherwood reasoned. The travel and car industries have marketed directly to the gay demographic for years. Sherwood’s wife “thought I was nuts,” he says, but not his old TV buddies and entrepreneurial friends.

“They said, ‘We’re sending you money,’” Sherwood says. “The giggling stopped three days into it.”

Sherwood had never even visited Key West before dreaming up WGAY. “I don’t know anything about being gay,” Sherwood says. “But I’m in show business.”

Sherwood recruited his son, Jason, who is also straight, to be WGAY’s general manager. Through contacts, they met the owners of Pride Nation Network (PNN), a California-based gay radio network that had some TV programming available on the Internet. PNN’s programming and Sherwood’s connections made for a natural marriage, and they’ve since forged an alliance. Between radio, podcasts and closed-circuit TVs, PNN says it’s reaching 12 million people.

A big break came in the fall, when David Letterman offered his (fictional) list of “Top 10 shows on WGAY.” Among them: Desperate Poolboys, How I Met Your Brother and—Sherwood’s favorite—The Queen of Kings.

“We’re all over the country with this thing,” Sherwood says. “And we weren’t even prepared for it.”

A network of 600 churches, oddly enough, is another way Sherwood is marketing WGAY. It’s now broadcasting church services aimed at the gay and lesbian community.

“We would love to make this the superstation and feed all the affiliates and have more stations ourselves,” he says. For now, the Internet is giving it an international audience.

Sherwood has no delusions that conservative communities in the Bible Belt will be as welcoming as Key West. “You can always tell the pioneers by the scars on their backs,” he says.

Unfortunately, WGAY had to give up the frequency that inspired its birth. It’s now at frequency 41. The new owner of frequency 69 is the Department of Homeland Security.

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