Columbia small businesses could be affected by pawn shop ordinance

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COLUMBIA - Stacy Allen doesn't think of herself as a pawn broker. However, based on the current wording of a proposed Columbia city ordinance, she would have to follow the same rules as one.

Allen is the manager at New Beginnings, a clothing consignment store in downtown Columbia, and her business is subject to new guidelines under that ordinance. It states pawn shops and second-hand stores must take photos of people selling items, keep the picture for a year, and keep the item they purchase off the shelves for seven days. 

The ordinance is aimed at stopping criminals from selling items they stole. Since she doesn't sell very high-priced items, Allen doesn't think she should be subject to these rules. 

"I can understand in cases of selling gold and diamonds and firearms and things like that. But not for some of us that deal just in clothing and accessories," Allen said. 

Traditional pawn shops already are following many of the guidelines in the ordinance, but Tiger Pawn owner Danny Trim doesn't see why they have to take a customer's picture. 

"We would have to ask the customer to remove their hat and glasses and take a head and shoulders photo of them with the merchandise they're bringing in. We're fairly opposed to that, because it's almost like a booking and it seems awfully intrusive to a customer," Trim said. 

Based on customers he's talked to, Trim believes people would be reluctant to shop there if they had to have their picture taken. Lieutenant Barbara Buck, who works in the Columbia Police Department's Criminal Investigations Division said the photo and seven-day holding period could help recover stolen items. 

"It gives us a chance to locate the property, get it back to the victim, and get some good information on the person that pawned the item," Buck said. 

According to Buck, the aim of the ordinance is to force criminals elsewhere if they can't pawn stolen items as easily in Columbia. She also said some of those same criminals tend to have substance abuse issues, which is why the city's Substance Abuse Advisory Commission is the one handling the ordinance. 

Most items listed in the ordinance are commonly stolen items such as electronics, firearms, and high-priced jewelry. The vague definition of jewelry in the current version of the proposed ordinance is what worries Allen.

"Us in the clothing area, that's what we're concerned about. It's the generic listing of the word 'jewelry'. It doesn't say precious metals, it doesn't say diamonds. So, that's where our [second-hand clothing industry] major concern is," Allen said. 

Buck said the ordinance will not apply to clothing and the term 'jewelry' will be discussed at the public hearing on the ordinance in the Columbia City Council Chambers at 7 p.m. on Wednesday. 

"We're going to talk with them [clothing store owners] to see what the best way is to do that. Jewelry can be a very expensive item that can be stolen, so even though the numbers may be lower, the dollar amount might be higher," Buck said. 

"So, whether we set it as a certain type of jewelry or a certain dollar amount of retail sales, that is something we're willing to explore with the businesses," she said. 

The next formal discussion on the ordinance will be at the public hearing on Wednesday night. Depending on how that conversation goes, some language in the current proposal may be changed. Buck said it could take up to six months for the final version of the ordinance to go into effect.