Why a proposed ordinance could cripple some secondhand stores


Nana’s Attic usually sells costume jewelry or other jewelry found at garage sales, estate sales and other thrift stores. (Photo by Matt Miller/KTOO)

The Juneau Assembly this week is taking comment on a proposed ordinance that would regulate secondhand stores and require they report transactions of high-value items like pawn shops.

The Human Resources Committee is considering the measure before sending it back to the full Assembly.

The ordinance is at the request of Juneau Police Department officials who say that car riflings and home burglaries are tied to Juneau’s drug problem. Those looking for a fix will try to raise cash by fencing stolen firearms, tools, precious metals, jewelry and electronics like stereos and cell phones.

Lt. Kris Sell said they’d like stores to keep an electronic searchable record that’s sent to the police department, and hold onto property for 30 days to slow down its potential shipment out of town.

“When burglaries happen, people often lose things that are very important to them (that are) far in excess of the actual retail value of that item,” Sell said. “It can be a grandmother’s necklace or a dad’s gun. Even if we can make a case and that person is compensated, you can’t make them whole once that item is gone.”

Some owners of secondhand stores say the proposed ordinance is overly broad and could cripple their business.

Suzanne Hudson of Nana’s Attic said she has some coin and costume jewelry in addition to vintage items at her downtown shop. Most items are purchased at flea markets, thrift stores, and garage and estate sales. She’s picky about buying from people who walk into her store.

“We cannot electronically keep track of everything because those systems cost a lot of money,” Hudson said. “I cannot store stuff for 30 days and not have it on my shelves because, if I run out of something, I have empty shelves. I may as well be out of business. I don’t have anything to offer.”

Across Seward Street and up a few doors is Mad Hatter’s Emporium. Owner Jayk Kent deals with some coins and jewelry amidst the comic books, vinyl LPs, beer paraphernalia, and baseball cards. He buys most of their stuff at out-of-town thrift and antique stores. But he worries that ordinance’s reporting requirements will scare away most of his Juneau walk-ins.

“We don’t do a lot of buying, but occasionally we do,” Kent said.

“But if this ordinance goes through, there’s no way that we buy from people that come in, honest people that want to get rid of their stuff. They will have to go to the dishonest people then that are still in business.”

Also downtown, Bill Young of the Jewel Box said they’ve accommodated former, known clients who want to trade up or upgrade a particular piece of jewelry. But he said he doesn’t want to sell pre-owned pieces.

“My policy is I do not promote and I do not encourage secondhand purchasing or trading secondhand products,” Young said.

The operators of Lemon Creek Treasures Thrift Store say they really don’t know how the ordinance will affect them. Karla Babcock said they’re trying to help the community, not make a ton of money. They largely sell clothing, kitchen goods, a few DVDs and electronic game cartridges. Babcock said they rarely deal with jewelry. Most of their goods — including electronics —  are donated to the shop.

Babcock said that if possible burglary victims or the police wanted to let them know about possible stolen items turned into our shop, “then we’d be happy to look through our stuff. But I don’t believe that people are going to be giving stolen items away.”

Dylan Hammons of Gold & Silver Exchange in the Nugget Mall readily acknowledges that the ordinance is aimed at his business. He declined to participate in a recorded interview, even immediately after explaining at length — off-tape — why he thought the ordinance was a bad idea. Hammons said that he provides a service, paying as much as 90-percent of market value for gold and less for damaged gold jewelry. And, he said, he already documents his purchases from walk-ins. Officers can come down and check if they wanted to do the legwork.

Assemblyman Jesse Kiehl, chairman of the Human Resources Committee, said the state’s pawn shop rules are the model for the ordinance.

“It’s still a draft,” Kiehl said.

“We’re really looking for suggestions from people who have been victims of crime and business owners to make it better.”

Based on comments already submitted, Kiehl said stores that sell secondhand furniture, clothing, antiques, camping gear and sporting goods may be exempt. Another possible provision includes a “hold” placed on an item for sale that a police officer may recognize as stolen property.

“The Chamber (of Commerce) worked really hard on making sure that the probable cause rules applied very clearly in all those cases, and that those holds had to be lifted quickly and property released as soon as it’s no longer part of a criminal investigation.”

The Human Resources Committee will take public comment on the ordinance July 17th at 5:30 p.m. in the Assembly Chambers at City Hall. It may also include a demonstration by the police department on the reporting system used by businesses.

Recent headlines