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Tentative tenancy for big-box site

City not enthused about pawn shop idea

May 17, 2011

Greenfield - Reluctantly, Greenfield city officials ordered a public hearing for a request to let a large pawn shop move into the entire 40,000 square feet that had been occupied by Ultimate Electronics.

The big-box store at 4585 S. 76th St. was left vacant in March after the chain for bankruptcy.

A pawn shop loans money to people who surrender personal property such as jewelry as collateral. They have a certain length of time to repay the loan. If they do, they get their property back. If not, the pawn shop sells it.

However, the vast majority of its business would not be pawn, but straight second-hand sales, said Chuck Armstrong, spokesman for the Minnesota-based Exchange Street, which wants to open in the space previously occupied by Ultimate Electronics and Circuit City.

Exchange Street has 23 locations, including four in Wisconsin with a fifth under construction.

Cautious undertaking

The Plan Commission was reluctant for two main reasons. One is the shady reputation of pawn shops. The other is the possibility that the city would need to hire another police officer to filter out stolen goods that find their way to the shop.

The larger issue of whether the city wants pawn shops is a policy question that will likely be considered later. Currently, pawn shops are allowed by city ordinances.

In the meantime, the Plan Commission granted the request for a hearing, probably for June 21.

The city has been trying hard to enhance the image of 76th Street, Mayor Michael Neitzke said, and he is plainly worried that a pawn shop would set that effort back.

There is a difference between a pawn shop and the many second-hand stores such as Half Price Books and Music Go Round that buys musical instruments, he said.

A common perception of pawn shops was voiced by a Plan Commission member who said that, when he was growing up, pawn shops were looked upon as so shady that he was to walk on the other side of the street.

Something to buy into

But Armstrong said the city should give his business model a chance.

"The best way to change perception is to walk through our front door. You'll leave your perception at the door," he said.

The aisles are broad, "and it is a pleasant retail experience for the family," Armstrong said.

Exchange Street does not sell guns or pornography or even clothing, he said. What it does sell is musical instruments, construction equipment, and variety of other items, Armstrong said. It not only buys used articles, but new merchandise from overstocks and closeouts.

Pawn makes up only a tiny portion of its business, he said.

Secondhand concerns

Police have no reason to doubt that, said Greenfield Police Chief Frank Springob.

But West Allis police have recovered $451,000 worth of stolen property found in what are considered benign second-hand shops, of which West Allis has more than a dozen, since May 2009, Springob noted.

Adding a large pawn/second-hand shop is worrisome for police, he said.

"Don't even think this is not an issue and a problem," Springob said.

Police already have a full-time detective working on finding stolen articles that make their way into second-hand shops, Police Capt. Paul Schlecht said, adding that another detective would likely be needed if such a large operation came to town.

But Armstrong doubted that much stolen merchandise would turn up. The staff is well-trained and goes through profile testing to minimize chances that stolen goods are accepted.

A new opportunity?

It is believed this would be the first pawn shop in Greenfield, although a small operation does have a pawn license in addition to its other business.

On the plus side, the business could add options to residents who would like to sell the proceeds of their spring cleaning, said Kevin Riordan, a real estate broker from Hales Corners representing Exchange Street.

"I have all kinds of stuff at home I could get rid of," Riordan said. "I would use it quite a bit."

The city itself could benefit from allowing Exchange Street, because it sells musical instruments to schools and supports other charitable efforts, he said.

Exchange Street is founder of Kids Feeding Kids, a joint effort with the Boys & Girls Clubs and does other charitable work, according to the company.

Exchange Street opened its first store in Robbinsdale, Minn., in 1991. The proposed Greenfield store would create an estimated 40 new jobs, with sales people paid $10 to $13 an hour plus commission.

THE NEXT STEP

WHAT: public hearing on a request for a pawn/resale shop to move into the former location of Ultimate Electronics, 4585 S. 76th St.

WHEN: tentatively June 21

WHERE: Greenfield City Hall, 7325 W. Forest Home Ave.

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