Step into the light and airy offices of Chicago Loan Company and you would never suspect you’re in a pawn shop. Located on the twelfth floor in the historic Heyworth building in the heart of Chicago – valuable art on the walls and private offices in which to conduct transactions – Chicago Loan Company is a world apart from the typical storefront pawn shop.
Chicago Loan Company, formerly known as T. N. Donnelly & Co., was founded in 1881, making it one of the oldest family-owned jewelers in the United States, and arguably the oldest pawnshop.
Thomas N. Donnelly ran the store along with several partners until the early 1900’s, when he and his son Thomas E. Donnelly incorporated. After World War I, the store moved from its original location at 34 North Dearborn to 35 North Dearborn across the street, continuing into the third generation of the family with brothers Christopher J. Donnelly and Robert E. Donnelly, and their cousins William Brooks and Thomas J. Brooks. In 1964, T. N. Donnelly & Co. moved off of street level to the 12th floor of the Jewelers Building at 5 North Wabash. In 2002, T. N. Donnelly & Co. moved across the street to its current location on the 12th floor of 29 East Madison.
Joseph Brooks, great-great-grandson of the original T. N. Donnelly, became the owner and president of T. N. Donnelly & Co. after the retirement of his father and cousins. In 2017, he sold the business to another family-owned collateral lending institution, The Loan Companies, whose assets include Beverly Loan Company and New York Loan Company.
In the 1930’s, when Los Angeles’ pawn shops were concentrated downtown on Hill Street, founder Louis Zimmelman knew there was a market for a different kind of pawn business. Instead of a dimly lit storefront operation where a pawnbroker sits behind a wire-enclosed booth making loans over the counter, Louis envisioned a place with the look and feel of a fine jewelry store, where the pawnbroker always wears a suit and tie, where business is conducted in private offices, and where the client’s valuables are securely kept in a bank vault.
And he was just the man to do it. A snappy dresser, a gentleman, and a jeweler whose family had been in the diamond trade for four generations, Louis chose Beverly Hills as the site for his new pawn shop. Hidden away in a bank building, the original Beverly Loan Company was a place where Hollywood’s movie stars, entertainment executives and affluent Westsiders temporarily down on their luck, or in between projects, could discreetly pawn their jewelry for quick cash without going downtown.
When Louis and his brother Julius opened Beverly Loan Company in 1938, times were tough. The Depression was easing, but war clouds were hanging over Europe. Everywhere people were nervous. Soon Europe was at war, and America followed in 1941. Julius was drafted and Louis was equally determined to do his part for the war effort. With the help of his mother and a sister, Louis now ran the fledgling business during the day and spent his nights working the graveyard shift at Lockheed Aircraft. After the War, both brothers put their full energies into building the business. Shortly thereafter, Beverly Loan Company thrived, boasting a well-established list of famous clients. Louis knew that in a town as image-conscious as Los Angeles, discretion is essential, so Beverly Loan Company made confidentiality its inviolable rule. This decision served Beverly Loan Company and the Zimmelman family well. In 80 plus years, no client name has ever been revealed without his or her permission. Louis often said, “If I go to a party and am introduced to someone who’s a client, I pretend I never saw him before. That’s why we continue to have loyal customers coming back to us for 30 years or more.”
By the mid-50’s, Louis had become one of the most respected men in the pawn world and well-positioned to address his long-held dream to help make the pawn business a respected industry. He was one of the original founders of the California Pawnbrokers Association (CAPA), a private, non-profit, trade organization committed to improving the pawnbroker industry in California through education and legislation. Determined to make the CAPA a success, Louis traveled statewide to encourage other pawnbrokers to join this organization and to adhere to its code of ethics.
After the death of his brother in 1987, Louis’ daughter Jeannie Zimmelman joined the business, and together they expanded Beverly Loan Company, hiring additional employees and computerizing the company’s record keeping. They were later joined by Jeannie’s sister Helaine. Louis died in 1995 and Helaine retired in 2001. After her father’s passing, Jeannie owned and operated the business with the same standards her father taught her so well – respect your customers, give them value, and maintain their confidentiality. Jeannie became the embodiment of the upscale pawn shop, an idea that her father developed seven decades earlier. Jeannie was featured in People, Los Angeles Times, Newsweek, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Access Hollywood, to name a few. Jeannie tragically passed away in 2005, leaving behind a husband, Brad, and two children, Lauren and Jordan, who now make it their duty to run the family business with the same loyalty, enthusiasm, and pride as she did.
Jordan, a licensed attorney and former full-time employee of Beverly Loan Company, rejoined the business in 2007 as its CEO, just as Jeannie had hoped. Like his mother, Jordan has represented the trade in the media, and has been featured in the Los Angeles Times, Variety, Today Show, CNN and more. Jordan is a member of the Board of Directors of the CAPA, the very organization that his grandfather founded decades earlier, as well as the National Pawnbrokers Association.
Jordan always had aspirations of expanding the family business to the East Coast, but was holding out for the perfect location. After considerable research, Jordan opened New York Loan Company in 2013, the sister company to Chicago Loan Company and Beverly Loan Company, which collectively make up The Loan Companies.
The staff members at Chicago Loan Company are handpicked for their friendly and professional demeanor, each bringing their varied and extensive expertise and gemological training to the practice, working together to continue Louis’ legacy of a secure and upscale pawn shop in Chicago.