The owners of three antiques and collectables stores in Modesto said they were blindsided recently when a Modesto Police Department employee gave them a three-inch stack of paperwork outlining requirements they must abide by as secondhand dealers – and a three-month deadline to comply.
Namely, they are required to fingerprint every vendor who rents space in their store or person selling on consignment, enter a description of the items they and their vendors are selling in a statewide database, and hold those items for 30 days before they can be sold.
The store owners say the rules will slow the movement of goods and hurt their bottom line.
Kerri Aguiar, owner of Remember When Antiques on West Orangeburg Avenue, rents space to 62 vendors who she said bring in merchandise by the “truckload.”
“We don’t have the space to hold it for 30 days,” she said, adding that entering dozens of items in a database each month would be time consuming and likely require hiring extra help.
“I have 5,000 square feet and stay full constantly,” said Patty Koch, owner of Home Decor and More on McHenry Avenue. “Every square foot is what makes the balance for us.”
But police spokeswoman Heather Graves said the businesses should have been doing this all along, under a law that has been in place for decades. A change in staff in the department’s pawn detail unit and a new database that went online statewide in April 2016 led to the recent enforcement, which she said is key to getting stolen property back to rightful owners.
When Community Service Officer Paula Moreno began working in the unit in September, she set out to visit the city’s 38 licensed pawnbrokers and secondhand dealers to get them on board with the new software and do away with the old system of filling out pawn slips by hand. Among the items Moreno has recovered is a watch stolen from Los Angeles County and three guitars from Contra Costa County.
Once she’d made her way through the first set of pawnbrokers and dealers, she began addressing the approximately 20 businesses that were selling secondhand merchandise but were operating with only a business license, not the required secondhand dealer/pawnbroker license, Graves said. She got to four businesses and the complaints started coming in.
Koch said she understands the need for some procedure to prevent the sale of stolen items, but “we just don’t want to be put under the category of a pawn shop. We operate with different people. We don’t buy off the street.”
The owners said they and their vendors get most of their merchandise from estate sales, garage sales and thrift stores. They say they don’t sell items usually found in pawn shops like gold, coins, firearms or anything with serial numbers on it.
Yes, Graves said, those are commonly stolen items, but so is antique furniture and other household items and clothing and accessories.
On Thursday, Graves read from a list of items taken during recently home burglaries. They included antique clocks, an antique piano, a stained glass table and floor lamps, and an old thimble collection.
All the owners say this is the first they’ve heard of these regulations. “The city did not tell us about this, which is who we go to for business and direction,” Koch said.
Some of the businesses have been in operation for years, others just a few months.
Monique Holes, who opened Vintage Holes in Roseburg Square in December, said she worries her vendors, burdened by the new rules, will leave for other cities that don’t impose them.
Aguiar contacted Modesto City Councilwoman Kristi Ah You, who said she will advocate for the businesses and plans to attend a meeting on Monday between the owners and Police Chief Galen Carroll.
“I frequent these types of businesses,” Ah You said. “They do not have the room to store items; they are typically operating on a shoestring budget and are not in the position to comply with all this red tape.”
She and the business owners say they understand there is a theft problem in Modesto, which Ah You has personally experienced. She had jewelry stolen, along with her husband’s deceased father’s watches and her son’s combat action badges from Afghanistan.
Ah You said, “I understand on an emotional level why this is important, but I think we can work with our businesses” to find a compromise. She suggested sending the stolen property list to the business owners to check it against what they have on their floors.
In addition to their concerns, the business owners also have many questions they hope will be answered at Monday’s meeting.
Holes pointed out that one of her vendors sells refurbished furniture and all of it is painted. She doesn’t know what it looked like in its original state, so she doesn’t know how she would describe it in the database. The most expensive piece in her store right now is a light that is fabricated from four different antique items. Does she enter all four items or describe it as one?
Heather Hill sells vintage wedding dresses, prom dresses, shoes and accessories. She gets most of them from thrift stores, then cleans and repairs them. She has receipts for all the dresses, but because it does not describe each dress, she was told she still has to hold the item and enter it. Why should she have to hold it if the thrift store didn’t, Hill wants to know.
Chief Carroll said he is willing to work with the businesses, which is why he organized the meeting.
“Do I think that these antiques shops are buying and selling stolen property? No,” Carroll said. “But there are things like the jewelry that I think can end up being stolen.”
Erin Tracy: 209-578-2366