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Greenfield decides pawn shop is bad trade-off

Exchange Street won't fill vacant big-box site

June 22, 2011

Greenfield - It was a "no sale" when it came to establishing a mega-pawn shop in the former quarters of Circuit City in Greenfield.

The Common Council Tuesday night voted 3-2 against issuing a special-use permit that would have allowed an Exchange Street pawn and resale business at 4585 S. 76th St., a big-box retail site that was last occupied by Ultimate Electronics earlier this year.

Minnesota-based Exchange Street operates four shops in the state and a total of 23 around the country. But a majority of Greenfield aldermen weren't comfortable with the local site becoming the chain's fifth Wisconsin location, especially after input at a public hearing Tuesday.

Pawn problems

The main concerns of alderwomen Linda Lubotsky, Pam Akers and Shirley Saryan included the probability that a police detective would have to be hired to make sure stolen goods are not sold there.

The estimated cost is $120,000 for a detective, including pay and benefits, Lubotsky said. Exchange Street offered $50,000 toward that amount but an agreement was not reached, Chuck Armstrong, Exchange Street spokesman, said after the meeting.

Another worry some alderwomen expressed was that such a large pawn/resale shop would put the city's small mom and pop resale shops out of business.

But the idea of a big-box pawn shop on 76th Street, in which the city has invested improvements in recent years, did not sit well with some aldermen.

"As William Shakespeare said, 'A rose by any other name will smell as sweet,' " Saryan said. "A pawn shop by any other name is still a pawn shop."

Other objections heard at the public hearing speakers included concerns that a huge pawn shop might attract the criminal element and result in higher crime rate in Greenfield.

"I would hate to see people visiting this place and start to look around," said resident Jeff D'Agostino.

And once one pawn shop is approved, others will likely come, said small business owner Bret Eulberg.

His brother owns a pawn shop in California and now three others have opened up around him, he said.

Some selling points, too

But aldermen Karl Kastner and Tom Pietrowski said the pawn/resale shop would not be the stereotype pawn shop.

They were convinced it would be well-run, based on a report of police who checked out an Exchange Street store in Madison. It also would provide a service to those who want to get rid of unused possessions and make a little money, they added.

"Basically, it's a Goodwill store you get money for," Kastner said.

He also said the city cannot keep a business out to protect existing businesses from competition.

And the money needed for an additional detective could be obtained from the company in the form of a transaction fee, Pietrowski said.

"Exchange Street is a real good opportunity for Greenfield," he said.

Following the meeting, Armstrong acknowledged dismay in how some aldermen view the company.

"We're disappointed," he said. "There continues to be a serious misconception."

However, Armstrong doubted that the company would try to challenge the decision in the courts.

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