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Greenfield rescinds ordinances on secondhand stores

Oct. 5, 2010

Greenfield — The Common Council on Tuesday voted unanimously to rescind a pair of ordinances requiring stores that sell secondhand merchandise to make daily reports to the police on transactions and to pay fees to the city.

But an alderwoman who has been involved in discussions over the controversial ordinances says the Police Department has started work on replacement measures more palatable to businesses, which objected to the fees and other aspects of the measures.

"I think the city made a mistake in putting the ordinances out without enough input" from businesses, said Ald. Linda Lubotsky, chair of the council's Legislative Committee, before the meeting Tuesday.

At the meeting, Ald. Shirley Saryan apologized to the merchants in the audience for her vote last spring to adopt the ordinances without much consultation with businesses. And Mayor Michael Neitzke said the ordinances have "given the city a black eye, maybe deservedly so."

The ordinances were designed to support an online system where the stores would post their purchases and identify the people from whom they were purchased, in a database. The database helps police track stolen items after thieves or burglars sell them to secondhand stores and then catch the thieves.

Neitzke has said recoveries of stolen jewelry by police using the reporting system's data - and cooperation between merchants and police - have been impressive.

But merchants had complained that the fees and some of the reporting requirements would be burdensome, and some businesses said they'd close if the rules went into effect.

Lubotsky said Chuck Fletcher, the Greenfield police detective assigned to solve burglaries and an enthusiastic advocate of the online system, has met with business owners, and police have come up with changes palatable to most owners.

She said her Legislative Committee will begin discussion of the new proposal - with input from businesses - on Oct. 18.

Being considered

Among proposed changes:

• The businesses wouldn't be charged fees.

• Retailers wouldn't be required to photograph sellers but could substitute fingerprints or high-quality video surveillance.

• The ordinance wouldn't apply to secondhand clothes or toys - and thus wouldn't affect a couple of the stores whose owners had objected.

Before the meeting, Joe Desch, district manager of the state's six Half Price Books stores, said he and his company weren't satisfied. Books would not be covered now, he said, but used CDs and DVDs would be.

"There are better, low-tech, cost-effective ways of doing this that would let us be custodians of the data," he said.

After the council voted to rescind, Desch and other merchants said they were pleased with the move.

But Stephanie Huff, general manager of The Exclusive Co. music store, said she was "happy for now. We'll see what happens on Oct. 18."

Though passed last spring, the original ordinances would have taken effect next summer, as would any replacement.

Some stores - among them Robert Haack Diamond Importers - have been voluntarily reporting the data. Haack owner Bret Eulberg told the council that it's important to adopt a replacement ordinance because the system helps solve crimes.

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