Used goods ordinance coming

October 4, 2010
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Owners of some of Grand Rapids’ smallest businesses will have to wait a little longer to learn how a new city ordinance will affect their daily transactions.

City commissioners were to have reviewed and possibly voted on the regulation that would apply to sellers of used merchandise last week. City Attorney Catherine Mish, however, asked for more time and said she thought the ordinance would be ready to come before commissioners later this month.

“The work is not yet finished,” said Mayor George Heartwell.

The ordinance is likely to impact pawnbrokers the most. Pawnshops take in a lot of electronic goods, such as televisions, computers, video games and players, and gold jewelry, and police have identified these items as making up the majority of merchandise stolen from homes and businesses.

“We’re interested in who is taking stuff off the street,” said Capt. Jeff Hertel, who commands the city’s detective bureau.

But how the regulation will affect antique dealers, consignment shops, used book and music stores, jewelers, art galleries and scrap metal dealers — who also buy and sell used merchandise — isn’t certain at this point.

First Ward Commissioner David Schaffer asked Mish last week what the ordinance would have in store for Schuler Books & Music, a locally owned retail business with three locations in the city that also buys and sells used books. Mish said the regulation wouldn’t apply to Schuler’s because dealing in used books isn’t its primary business. Schaffer then said the ordinance would only hurt the “smaller guy” who only sells used merchandise. Mish responded by saying the purpose of the ordinance is to recapture stolen goods.

City Clerk Laurie Parks said these businesses have to be licensed as secondhand dealers — a matter that was spelled out in a separate ordinance — and this regulation only outlines how used merchandise will be reported to police when a business buys an item.

“The commissioners and I have a fairly large interest in this matter,” said Heartwell.

The first draft of the ordinance came before commissioners in June; that version required businesses to take a digital photograph of every item they receive and get the thumbprint of every customer they buy merchandise from, and then electronically send both to the detective bureau. Any business owner that failed to comply would be charged with a misdemeanor, which would carry up to a 90-day jail sentence and a maximum fine of $500.

But business owners told commissioners the regulation was too costly, too time consuming and too cumbersome to follow. Some owners said their business is a sole proprietorship, while others said they only have one employee, and their workdays are already full and their margins are already tight.

After hearing from them, commissioners told Mish in July to rewrite the ordinance because its reach was too broad and it would result in an unwanted economic burden for the businesses. City commissioners were expecting to see the new version Sept. 28.

“It’s my hope and expectation that we’ve been heard,” Heartwell told Mish last week.

Mish said last week that the police have been meeting with the business owners and talking to them about their concerns. Mish also said that Assistant City Attorney Margaret Bloemers hasn’t had the time recently to rewrite the ordinance because she had been representing the city in court. The ordinance is now scheduled to come before the commission Oct. 26.

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