At Desle Sullivan's pawn shop, the welcome is not exactly promising. Her dog, a 5-year-old bichon-silkie cross, practically throws himself at the glass of the front door, which is luckily closed, even though it's opening time.
His name's Louis, it turns out, and no wonder he's protective; this is his territory and has been since he was 8 weeks old. But his yapping duties done, Louis retires in silence to the back room. It's the buses that snarl at the kerb as Sullivan rolls back the security grille and runs a broom over the floor. ("So much rubbish blows in here," she tsks).
Trading under the name of The Cash Lady, she's been in Victoria St West, almost over the road from the Sky Tower, for six years. She'd worked in others' businesses in West Auckland for a decade before that, but her husband's sudden death in his armchair at 54 forced a rethink.
"I walked out of the room to iron some shirts for the next day, walked back in and my life had changed," she says. "I had a 14-year-old daughter and a mortgage I couldn't manage, so I needed to get more control of my income."
If your idea of pawnbroking is of unshaven proprietors acting shifty under police questioning and fencing stolen goods, Sullivan's shop is an eye-opener. Fragrant reeds scent the air. The back wall is a riot of gaudy Cuban art, and she stands at a display case full of gold jewellery glinting under spotlights.
On shelves and in the window are bags (Bulgari, Jimmy Choo) and clutch purses (Gucci, Christian Dior).
Pawnbroking, she explains, is lending, "but whenever money changes hands, goods change hands". The borrower pays 30 per cent of the loan amount each month 20 if it's all paid back within the first month and goods pawned, commonly jewellery, remain sealed in an envelope in the safe. When the debt, with interest, is repaid, the goods are redeemed.
"If I don't hear from them for three months, the contract is over," Sullivan explains. "The loan defaults and the item gets pulled and auctioned and if it doesn't sell at auction, it goes in my cabinet [for sale]".
Having been raised to fear borrowing as I was to fear Satan himself, I can't help remarking that a $1000 loan that becomes $1900 after three months is expensive money. But, she says, some of her competitors charge much more and at "fringe lenders", with compounding rates, customers are "fleeced like mad".
"Most pawn loans are small $100 to $500 and on a short-term small loan it's not very high. A huge amount get redeemed in the first month, so they're only paying 20 per cent."
Most of Sullivan's customers have no option, she explains: "They don't have to have a credit rating; they walk in with the goods, they walk out with the money. A lot of them don't even speak English, but they know what to do, because it's a worldwide thing."
It is an ancient tradition, perhaps the second-oldest profession. Some with roots in the UK and Ireland will recall stories of Mum pawning Dad's best suit to put food on the table and getting it back the following week. It was a tradition that get-ahead newcomers to this prosperous land learned to despise, but Sullivan says immigrant populations are reviving it.
"For many new New Zealanders, there is not the same stigma. They know what we do and how we do it. If there's a disaster in the Philippines, a lot of Filipina girls come in borrowing money on their jewellery or bags or whatever because Mum's sick."
Regular visits by the police, who inspect her books, are a constant reminder to Sullivan that criminals can be customers. It's not her responsibility to ensure goods are not stolen, but if they are, the goods are seized and she does her dough.
"You get a nose for it," she says. "If someone looks shifty, I don't ask where he got it; I just say I'm not interested.
"I had a guy walk in here on Saturday morning with a nice three-stone diamond ring. I told him how much I'd lend on it and how much I'd pay for it and he said 'Oh, is it real?'
"So I said I had a lot of stock and probably wouldn't be interested. I knew the reason he didn't know it was real was because it didn't belong to him."