A little-known section of the San Francisco police code has the owners of some secondhand stores feeling like criminals.
Supervisor Scott Wiener is leading the charge to eliminate rules requiring the owners of such businesses to provide fingerprints and mug shots, pay a licensing fee of as much as $1,500, and supply daily transaction records and descriptions of people purchasing and selling at their stores.
Wiener said it is time to stop treating merchants selling antique furniture, books and vintage clothing like “they were running the worst kind of pawnshop.” His proposal would keep intact The City’s requirements for pawnshops and junk dealers.
However, police Deputy Chief James Dudley opposes doing away with the law, saying it could hamper efforts to crack down on stolen property and burglaries and possibly have “unintended consequences.”
“We feel like we need to have a hand in the business,” Dudley told a hearing of the Board of Supervisors Government Audit and Oversight Committee. Dudley added that his department is open to reducing fees or relaxing its reporting requirements.
But a handful of business owners told the committee that they deserve the same treatment as merchants selling new items.
“These are the type of fees that are going to really put us under,” said Angie Petitt-Taylor, co-owner of Cole Valley Antiques. “There must be other ways to navigate through the questions of stolen goods.”
Christopher Albanese, the owner of Antiquario on Market Street, said he can afford the fee, but can’t abide by the reporting requirements.
“It’s impossible,” he said, adding that he cannot take notes on all of the hundreds of customers who shop in his 3,400-square-foot store.
One shopkeeper who apparently is not enforcing the rules said customers would find it an invasion of their privacy if the store recorded personal information beyond what’s included in an ordinary receipt.
The owners of several shops said they only learned about the requirements, after years of being in business, via a threatening letter warning them to pay up or face penalties.
According to police, San Francisco is home to 275 secondhand dealers, including two authorized to resell firearms. The fees under this program generate about $277,000 and pay for fingerprinting, background checks and administrative costs.
The committee voted to send Wiener’s legislation to the full board, which is expected to vote on the legislation Sept. 4. However, Wiener is expected to seek a compromise with the Police Department in the interim.