Arts Desk

DCRA Finalizes Rules Exempting Used and Vintage Stores From Secondhand Business License

Good news for the Adams Morgan and 14th Street NW businesses that got a rude visit earlier this year from District regulators—as well as every store in D.C. that sells used or vintage media, furniture, clothing, and other goods: The District's Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs has published its final new regulations simplifying the licensing requirements for vintage stores and secondhand dealers.

This follows the April brouhaha in which inspectors from DCRA and the Metropolitan Police Department visited six businesses that sell used records, furniture, clothing, and jewelry and told them that they needed a "secondhand business license" rather than the less onerous general business license—and that they faced steep fines if they did not comply. The secondhand business license costs nearly $700 every two years and comes with strict inventory-reporting and background-check requirements as checks against the fencing of stolen goods.

Following several rounds of proposed changes, DCRA settled on new rules that leave its regulators, the Adams Morgan BID, and a group called "Save Our Shops" happy. According to DCRA, stores that sell the following kinds of goods can now get the general business license, which costs $324.50 every two years and can be obtained online:

  • Used books, magazines, vinyl records, cassette tapes, compact discs, VHS videos, DVDs, Blu-ray discs, or other similar recorded media;
  • Used furniture, home furnishings, architectural salvage, or pianos;
  • Used rugs or tapestries;
  • Used clothing;
  • Household property sold at a garage sale or yard sale;
  • Paintings, sculptures, drawings, etchings, engravings, photographs, lithographs, or prints;
  • Jewelry that: 1)Does not contain any precious metals (such as gold, silver, platinum, or palladium) and/or precious stones (such as diamonds, rubies, sapphiores, emeralds, or pearls); or 2) Contains precious metals and/or precious stones and has been purchased from an estate sale or certified auction. The seller must retain a written record that any such jewelry was purchased from an estate sale or auction.
  • Merchandise that was received as a return or exchange, if the merchandise was originally purchased as new from the person receiving it; and
  • Factory rebuilt or refurbished merchandise.

The jewelry part had been one point of contention between vintage shop-owners and DCRA over the summer. While regulators wanted to exclude all precious metals from the general business license, shop-owners suggested allowing the sale of all jewelry worth less than $500 under the general business license. "The problem with that is, how do you come up with the valuation? Particularly for our license investigators, it becomes a challenge to make a quick determination," says DCRA spokesman Helder Gil. The compromise allows for jewelry containing precious metals picked up at estate sales or auctions—and not off the street—as long as the shops have some sort of written record of the purchases.

Two representatives of the affected businesses, "Save Our Shops" lawyer Robert Clayton and Adams Morgan Partnership BID Executive Director Kristen Barden, tell me they're pleased with the new regulations. And Gil stresses that the new rules lower the barriers to entry for new vintage businesses: "I think our hope is to see more of these vintage stores opening up in D.C. now that the licensing process is way easier and way cheaper now."

As for the behavior of the DCRA inspector who, along with a pawn detective from MPD, embarked upon what one clerk called "a farcical good cop/bad cop routine": Gil says business owners and investigators had different takes on the events of April 4, but that DCRA chief Nicholas Majett reiterated to investigators that in such situations, "you have to treat it gently and professionally."

Photo by Darrow Montgomery

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