What a difference a year makes. Some of the newly rich and long time wealthy in Calgary's once hot economy are now looking for fast cash because of the economic downturn, and they're turning to pawn shops.

​"Right now we have one, two...10 Rolexes for sale, two Panerais, a few Tag Heuers," said John Sanford, one of the owners of Rocky Mountain Pawn on Macleod Trail, as he counts the luxury watches in a glass case.

He has 100 more in a back room.

The economy has changed his clientele too, as formerly well-paid people are telling him they've been laid off or plan to leave town.

"People have come in and they've said, 'That's it, I'm heading back to Ottawa, Montreal,'" he said.

Louis Vuitton bag

Gucci and Louis Vuitton goods are just some of the designer items at Calgary pawn shops. (Kate Adach/CBC)

About six months ago, high-end items started rolling in to his shop, such as a 5.1-carat diamond — a $200,000 stone — and designer hand bags "whether it be Louis Vuitton, Chanel or Gucci."

In the 2008 recession, some pawn shops had to close because they were giving out more money than they were able to make up in sales, Sanford says. 

This time, Sanford is being careful about the items he takes in because fewer people are buying.

"And whether it be Louis Vuitton, Chanel or, you know, Gucci, it's special and sometimes the person is pawning it, getting that $400 or $500, and they truly are going to be back for it."

Rolex watches for pawn

Some of the items Calgarians are pawning to weather the recession. (Kate Adach/CBC)

There has been a steady stream of customers, including a woman pawning Vera Wang earrings for about $3,000, or a man who can't find steady work as a truck driver so he's putting some art work on loan for short-term cash.

"That's a good grocery bill for a month, so — yeah — it's very important to get that $200," said Robert Huntington, who has used the pawn shop for the third time this year.

He intends to pay back the money he borrowed from the pawn shop, plus rent, and eventually get his art work back — one of the many customers hoping to reclaim their items when things turn around, says Sanford.