Larry Kilgore has two passions: Horses and Dick Bardon Pawn Shop. The pawn shop was in Larry’s family since 1906. He closed its doors in 1986, 80 years later.
Larry’s uncle, Dick Bardon, came from St. Louis to Tulsa in 1904 driving a covered wagon that he won with gambling money. When gambling became illegal, he opened the doors to a pawn shop. Bardon was well known for his philanthropy, handing an $80,000 check to the struggling Board of Education and saying, “I have no intention of living in a town that can’t pay its teachers.”
Larry took over the pawn shop in 1967, leaving the cash registers from his Uncle Dick’s ownership on display.
A typical day at Dick Bardon Pawn Shop began with phone calls from people who had been robbed. Larry had a clever way of determining whether goods had been stolen. He imitates his strategy: “Gollee, this is a nice camera. Show me how you work with this.” He would stall the thief. And then the policeman would arrive with the person who reported the robbery. Busted.
At Dick Bardon’s, popular pawned items included TVs, record players, sewing machines and power saws. There were also the more long-term artifacts. “One thing I shy away from are sliding trombones,” Larry says, “We had one for darned near 20 years.”
Many customers would also use the pawnshop as storage space for seasonal items: Lawnmowers and fans. Larry puts emphasis on one of Dick Bardon’s multiple mottos: “We’ll loan on anything of value.”
“The taxi drivers liked us,” Larry says, ” ‘Cause we had an alley entrance. The gambler took a taxi and pawned his diamond or hat or suit. Sometimes his shoes. He’d hire a taxi driver to take him down to Bardon’s while he gambled.”
In 1980, there was a hold-up at the pawnshop. Larry remembers when two men walked in with pistols. Larry and his two employees came out of the situation unharmed, but the hold-up continued to affect him. He was awake into the early morning sometimes, worrying about vandalism and the potential for robbery. Tulsa was changing. “Could I shoot somebody?” Larry remembers asking himself. “Under the right circumstances I could. Did I want to? No I did not want to.” Larry closed his doors in 1986.
There was an auction on the evening of October 15, 1986. Over 100 dedicated Dick Bardon Pawn Shop customers attended. Guns, jewelry and tools were up for grabs. The original aluminum pawn shop balls from Dick Bardon’s downtown Tulsa location were also on the block. A brochure from the auction reads: “Cash only. No checks accepted. Established customers excluded.”
“I could call almost every customer in the store by name. It was a wonderful business and it killed me to have to sell it. But then I got to really and truly spend the rest of my time being a cowboy,” Larry says. Therapy Hill, his 20-acre farm east of Tulsa, was Larry’s retreat.