Arts Desk

New Rules Coming Soon for Used Record and Book Stores (But Not Every Shop’s Happy)

The District's Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs will propose several changes to the licensing rules that govern shops selling used goods—which might be welcome news for some of the businesses that DCRA and the Metropolitan Police Department cracked down on in April. Eric Rogers, the agency's acting business licensing administrator, announced the changes today on The Kojo Nnamdi Show on WAMU.

The regulatory fixes will be included in the D.C. Register on Friday. They'll then be subject to a 30-day comment period, after which point DCRA can amend them further before permanently adding them to the books. The changes break down this way, according to DCRA Legislative Affairs Specialist Helder Gil:

  • Businesses that sell used books, magazines, vinyl records, cassette tapes, compact discs, VHS videos, DVDs, rugs or tapestries, used clothing, paintings, sculptures, drawings, etchings, or engravings no longer need to obtain the secondhand business license. They'll be covered by the less onerous, cheaper general business license.
  • The owners of businesses that  still do need to have the secondhand business license—including stores that sell used furniture and jewelry—will now have to undergo background checks every five years. Currently, they have to do it every two.
  • A secondhand business that sells, say, both used jewelry and used books will only have to submit inventory information to MPD's pawn unit for the former.

The secondhand business license became the cause of some controversy because, well, a number of local businesses never knew they were supposed to have it. Six businesses found that out rather unpleasantly on April 4, when an official from DCRA and a detective from MPD's pawn unit visited them, acting aggressively and using a "farcical good cop/bad cop routine," one shop manager said at the time. The businesses—Idle Time Books, Crooked Beat Records, Smash Records, Treasury, Meeps, and GoodWood—were told they had to comply within seven days or face steep fines.

That didn't play so well—with the Adams Morgan BID, with supporters of the shops, with Ward 1 Councilmember Jim Graham—and a week later, the businesses sat down with DCRA's director, Nick Majett, who apologized for the stores' treatment by the DCRA inspector and allowed for a wider berth for compliance. Meanwhile, the shops and a lawyer representing them, Robert Claytoncirculatedpetition urging the council to overhaul the licensing rules. It currently has more than 2,600 signatures.

DCRA's proposed changes are most significant for Idle Time, Crooked Beat, and Smash—they'll be regulated the way they always have. For Treasury and Meeps—used clothing stores that both sell some used jewelry—and GoodWood, which sells antique furniture, it's hardly a relief at all: They'll likely need the secondhand business license. “It would affect us in a way that would be completely burdensome," says Katerina Herodotou, one of the owners of Meeps and Treasury. The secondhand business license costs $651.20 annually biennially (in addition to other fees and the cost of a background check) and requires daily inventory filings with MPD. But DCRA's changes could become more exhaustive or nuanced after 30 days.

“It gets us part of the way there,” says Adams Morgan Partnership BID Executive Director Kristen Barden of the proposed changes. Clayton agrees: In legislation he drafted that he's hoping the D.C. Council will adapt, businesses selling items of jewelry under $500 and furniture and furnishings under $3,000 are also exempted from the secondhand business license.

Although Clayton and Barden say they'll participate in DCRA's 30-day comment period, they still plan to push for the Council to pass emergency legislation before its recess in July. On Kojo, Graham said his inclination is to introduce emergency legislation to the D.C. Council before next Tuesday.

Photo by Darrow Montgomery

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