nixland*Excerpt: [One of the kingpins of the Chicago check-cashing industry immediately walked up to me and poked me in the chest with his finger three times saying, “Wow! I am surprised you’re not wearing a bullet-proof vest.” This is a common way to finger the target of a hit…he may have done it to scare me…I gave him a big smile and said, “I don’t need one.”]

Tom Nix – not to be confused with Tom Mix the legendary cowboy of the silver screen, but a trailblazing urban cowboy none the less – set the standard for the inner city check cashing industry just as Mix set the standard for cowboy actors like John Wayne and Ronald Reagan.

In his autobiography Nixland, My Wild Ride in the Inner City Check Cashing Industry – endorsed by many including Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca, Head Coach of the Seattle Sea Hawks Pete Carroll, and Real Estate Developer Bob Best who calls him a “true American hero” – Nix chronicles life lessons he learned from his father and other key influences that became the underpinnings for success. The story is filled with hair-raising adventure in the streets of Los Angeles as well as in the boardroom.

Starting in 1966 with his dad opening a bakery thrift store in South Central Los Angeles, the family business evolved to what was called the Mini Mart, and Nix – in search of a way to combat fraud – became an agent for the Polaroid Corporation, and developed an identification system “to make check cashing a point of difference.” Liquor stores charged a fee for risky hard-to-cash checks. Nix figured customers would come from miles around for free check cashing and cheap bread that his father brokered through his association with the bakery business. Thus many customers referred to Mini Mart as “the bread store” which quickly became a thriving business.

Because of its location the Mini Mart was a constant target for shoplifters and would-be robbers, so Nix, brother Jim, and his dad armed themselves with Smith & Wesson snub-nose .38’s which they wore under their grocers’ jackets, and were always prepared for the worst. It also helped that they always hired trustworthy and friendly people from the neighborhood who had their backs. He describes how they converted a store room into a jail cell to hold shoplifters – which averaged about ten each week – until the sheriff arrived. He tells of a harrowing incident where he chased a knife-wielding shoplifter out of the store, and when he pulled out his gun the cylinder opened and all the bullets fell to the ground. As Nix closed the cylinder pointing the gun he told the shoplifter to drop the knife, the shoplifter said “You don’t have any bullets,” but Nix bluffed and said ‘There’s one still in there, and I’m going to blow your [frickin’] brains out with it if you don’t drop the knife.” The shoplifter conceded and Nix took him to the holding cell. That was risky business. Shortly after that a deputy sheriff suggested he sign up to become a reserve deputy sheriff which he did, and that’s where the real adventure began.

Not long after opening their first stand-alone Nix Check Cashing site, the family business thrived beyond their wildest dreams, and they began to open more and more locations. The same risks Nix took in the streets of Los Angeles, he took the same in the boardroom. Driven by a learned trait to always do the right thing, Nix based his decisions on integrity, and loyalty to the team he had built from day one that made Nix Check Cashing the premier model for all the check cashing entities that came afterwards. Read about his successes with the Store Within Store (S-W-S) franchises, his associations with Union Bank, Western Union, and Sun America. Read how the City of Los Angeles pulled a “bait & switch” of sorts and put Nix and his team in serious harm’s way during the 1992 L.A. riot. It’s as fascinating as a Hollywood movie!

When it came time to sell, he was not just looking out for himself, but wanted a buyer that would reward his faithful team, and would continue to benefit the under-served communities that mainstream banks did not consider profitable. With deals on again off again over a period of time, Nix had prepared himself for the worst, then miraculously out of a chance meeting, he was introduced to a buyer – Kinecta Federal Credit Union. They negotiated the deal, and Kinecta – agreeing to the conditions to retain the Nix team, and build upon the Nix business model – bought Nix Check Cashing for 45 million dollars.“He was the best boss anyone could ever hope for!” – Christina Pena who worked for Nix when he was at the helm.

“Nixland, My Wild Ride in the Inner City Check Cashing Industry,” is a great story – 229 pages of adventure and inspiring life lessons – that I highly recommend.

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Larry Buford is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer. Author of “Things Are Gettin’ Outta Hand” (Amazon)   [email protected]