The young African-American man enters the tiny downtown store and from his pocket removes a silver chain bracelet and what might be a piece of a gold earring.
He lays the jewelry on the counter and addresses the Jewish man across the counter, saying “Mr. Eddie. We spoke on the phone this morning.”
Eddie Lowy, the owner of Banner Coin Exchange, greets the gentleman with a generous smile.
Smiles come naturally to Lowy; they shape his “resting face” and seem to fade only those moments when he is gazing intently into his jeweler’s loupe, determining whether a given item is treasure or trash.
This time it’s treasure. The bracelet, Lowy tells his customer, was made in China, but it is sterling silver.
He tests the earring piece with acid and confirms it is made of 10 karat gold. Lowy presses a few keys on his adding machine and tells the young man that his trinkets are worth a total of $22.83.
“I guess that was worth the trip down here,” Lowy says, and his customer agrees.
“Yes, it was,” says the man, who is simultaneously giving a play-by-play on his cell to his girlfriend, telling her what price her pieces have fetched.
Lowy checks and records the man’s identification — it’s clear he has laws to follow, and he is following them to the letter — and completes the transaction by paying his patron and tucking the jewelry away.
The customer does not for a second doubt Lowy’s appraisal. After being in the business of coin and jewelry exchange for more than 37 years, Lowy has developed a reputation for honesty and integrity.
His Google and Yelp reviews are uniformly outstanding, with customers writing that Lowy’s shop offers the “best price in town,” and that he is “more than fair.” That Lowy, 59, is “friendly” and “talkative” also does not go unnoticed by his reviewers.
Within 90 minutes, 43 people have visited Lowy’s shop, which measures 159 square feet, “the size of a large bathroom,” he quips.
The patrons are a diverse group, covering the gamut of ethnicities and coming from a range of socioeconomic stations. They enter his shop to exchange scrap jewelry for cash, or have a watch repaired, or sell an old coin collection inherited from a relative.
Lowy treats everyone the same, with kindness and patience, taking the time to strike up conversations and make personal connections.
A woman who works near Lowy’s Fourth Avenue shop stops in with a watch that needs a new pin. She is in Banner Coin for less than five minutes, but before she goes, Lowy has her chatting about growing up Italian in Bloomfield, and the two are reminiscing about authentic cannoli.
“I’ve built up a strong reputation in this business,” said Lowy, who grew up in Point Breeze. “Not all people in this business are equal. Some take it to heart to treat people fairly, and some take advantage of everyone who comes through the door. That’s not the way I was raised.”
His physician father, Lowy said, always told him “to treat people really well, and that would come back to you in very positive ways. And it’s true.”
Lowy bought Banner Coin in 1979, “two days before Thanksgiving,” from the Santora family, which had been operating the store since 1963.
He officially began operating the shop on May 1, 1980, right after his graduation from the University of Pittsburgh. The economics major had known from the time he was a child that he was headed to the coin business.
From that moment on, Lowy was a coin collector, and at the age of 12, he took a job at a coin shop on Murray Avenue, where he worked until he was 17.
When Banner Coin was up for sale just a few years later, Lowy didn’t hesitate.
There is a lot going on in that little shop. Within those walls is a microcosm of Pittsburgh culture and a lesson in civility. And lots and lots of stuff.
The walls are covered with autographed photos of celebrities, the collection of a former client. The glass cases are filled with jewelry and watches and what appears to be hundreds, if not thousands, of coins. But while it looks haphazard and disorganized, Lowy knows where, and what, everything is and the value of each piece.
“For better or worse, I tell people what they have,” Lowy said. “If it’s junk, I tell them so. If it’s good, they’re happy. I don’t paint any false pictures.”
After almost four decades in the business, Lowy has some great stories. Like the time a woman from a well-heeled historic Pittsburgh family came in the store with a coin wrapped up in cotton that she had found while cleaning out an old desk. She asked Lowy, if it was “worth anything at all.”
“I opened it up, and there was an 1852, $50 U.S. gold coin, private mint, made during the California Gold Rush,” he recalled. “I knew right away what it was. It wholesaled for $36,000, and I told her I’d pay her $33,000. She replied, ‘Oh, is that all?’”
The woman left with her coin, but Lowy gave her his business card, and told her that if she ever wanted to sell it, he would buy it.
About three months later, a limo pulled up in front of the shop, and a man with a briefcase came into the store, ready to sell the coin on behalf of his client. Lowy did purchase the coin and still has it, he said.
His work is a mixed bag. While he does his share of dealing with rare and valuable coins, old silverware and tea sets, Lowy also deals in the decidedly unglamorous — like dental bridgework, sometimes still attached to teeth.
Although his shop is easy to miss if you aren’t looking for it, it has not gone unnoticed. It was featured last year, along with three other established downtown shops, in a WQED documentary, “Return to Downtown Pittsburgh,” by Rick Sebak.
“I’m a fixture downtown,” Lowy said. “I get everyone in here, from judges to lawyers to the mayor to panhandlers. Everyone knows me.” PJC
Toby Tabachnick can be reached at