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North Adams Committee Advises Repeal of Secondhand Store Laws
By Tammy Daniels, iBerkshires Staff
05:47AM / Friday, October 20, 2023
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NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The General Government Committee is recommending the repeal of several sections of the secondhand dealer ordinance that's burdensome and not in line with contemporary business methods.
The ordinance requires secondhand dealers to keep meticulous records for police of any purchases from the public and that those purchases be held for 30 days, as well as inventory of their goods. 
Those laws were put in place decades ago when thrift and second hand stores may have had a shadier reputations, said committee member Ashley Shade at Tuesday's meeting. 
"It's an overburdensome regulation. It doesn't make a lot of sense," she said. "And to be honest, most people who are going to sell illicit goods are not going to do so in a secondhand store in the modern age of the internet."
Berkshire Emporium's Keith Bona said he does take precautions when buying from people but noted many of his purchases are from estate sales, tag sales and "whole house" buys. 
"The more reputable businesses want to also protect themselves," he said. "So I when I've received items in and I do it somewhat regularly, I have contacted the police thinking something might be stolen. ...
"But there's many ways again, people can sell stolen stuff ... So I think you're punishing the retailers who are doing more than anyone else." 
Jessica Sweeney, owner of Savvy Hive, told the committee it would be an unreasonable cost and staff time to track the amount of clothing and accessories that go through her store. 
"I also have concerns about the 30-day storage process which would also require us to hold on to items for 30 days before selling it," she said, adding that another thrift dealer was considering moving their business out of the city after finding out about the ordinance. 
She continued that she does not buy off individuals "so at the very least, I would love to see some sort of exemption process if a business is not buying directly off the public."
Sweeney also said she had no knowledge of the ordinance until being notified she had to license as a secondhand business after being open for 18 months. 
"I don't understand why it has to be an annual [license] that we are telling the Police Department that we continue to exist," she said. "I think a one-time license makes total sense to me."
It was pointed out that secondhand, thrift and antique shops have to pay that annual fee on top of the fee when they register as a regular business.
Shade suggested the business fee be considered the application license fee. "So the correct thing to do there — that's the piece that I've sent off for the Finance Committee to discuss — for the fees around those licenses would be to drop them."
But a license would still be required, she said. "The parts of this ordinance that I'm looking to repeal would not eliminate the requirements to apply for a license and, unfortunately, that is actually in MGL law."
James Montepare, who has run secondhand shops in North Adams and Williamstown, said Williamstown has no fee or ordinance regulating these businesses. 
"I don't know if it's the same way in North Adams but in zoning in Williamstown, and other places that I participated in with property, if you're in a business area, you're zoned with an NA — no application needed," he said. 
Rye Howard of the Bear & Bee Bookstore also attended the meeting over concerns that they would have to start inventorying thousands of secondhand books but was relieved to find that books were exempt. 
The discussion also touched on items that have been re-imagined, particularly in the clothing industry, and whether they were actually "secondhand." Sweeney pointed out that store on Main Street was selling that type of clothing and had not gotten a notice. 
A section stating that secondhand dealers could not buy from minors has also been recommended for repeal. Shade said it was discriminatory and Bona noted there are minors selling things on eBay. 
The ease of people to buy and sell on internet sites like eBay was a strong argument for repeal of these ordinance sections. Sweeney said it wasn't fair to put the burden on brick and mortar storefronts and not on people basically running secondhand shops out of their homes. 
The committee is recommending the City Council repeal three sections regarding annual fees, inventorying and holding purchases (10.3), and selling to minors (10.4) and hours of operation (10.5). Secondhand shops are limited to 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Sweeney noted they are in violation every time they participate in a downtown event.
The committee is also recommending that the new ordinances be published on the city website within 14 days of passage because of how long it takes to get them published in the eCode.
Shade had brought the change forward after discussions with City Clerk Tina Leonesio. 
"It was her recommendation to update this mainly because for several years we had a turnover of city clerks and things were not being done properly," said Shade. "By putting this in it's going to protect new clerks or new people that might come in after she leaves to make sure that these things continue to stay updated and accessible."
Her original motion had been to post within 48 hours but Oleskiewicz objected that it wouldn't give enough time for the clerk. This was compromised at 14 days and will be referred back to City Council.
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