The City of Greenfield will continue to look for a tenant for the vacated Ultimate Electronics building after the Common Council shot down a proposed pawn shop at the location at Tuesday’s meeting at City Hall.
Despite pleas from the store’s owner and company representatives, the council rejected the request by Exchange Street, a Minnesota-based company, to move into the building located just off Interstate 894 and on the busy 76th Street thoroughfare.
The public hearing lasted 45 minutes before the council denied the request with a 3-2 vote.
A large concern was the stigma attached to pawn shops and the kind of clientele it would attract.
“It may be dressed nicely. It may be in a beautiful location. It may have whistles and bells. But the bottom line is it’s a pawn shop,” citizen Jeff D’Agostino said. People are going to the pawn shop “because the merchandise will be stolen and they will have to get rid of it quickly and perhaps unanimously. It’s going to end up being a problem.”
The company itself is undergoing an image change, using the name Exchange Street instead of its more commonly known name of Pawn America.
“If this place was called Pawn America and not Exchange Street, this place (council chambers) would packed with people who didn’t want it,” citizen Brett Eulberg said.
The building’s owner Jim Dentici, whose family has owned the property since 1948, said no one was more concerned with the value of the property and the value a business would bring to the city than he and his family were. And after doing researching Exchange Street, he was satisfied it was a good fit.
“We’re very much aware of the stigma of a pawn store,” Dentici said. “But they have done everything in their power and work every single day to get rid of that stigma.
“We talk about the highest and best use, but to me the highest and best use is a good tenant who pays rent, pays taxes and keeps the property up. … The impression right now is that there are alternatives out there. Whatever you’ve been told, there is no alternative, nothing that matches this.”
Another raised concern was the strain the store would have on the police department. Captain Paul Schlecht of the Greenfield Police Department said he and his department contacted other police agencies that have Exchange Street stores in their jurisdiction and those agencies indicated that the stores work very well with their departments, and their record-keeping and storage were impeccable.
“On the other hand, when you take a used item and convert it to cash, that invites a criminal element,” Schlecht said.
Schlecht said one department detective oversees 50,000 transactions from resale shops each year, checking for stolen goods and the legitimacy of those transactions. Exchange Street anticipated 50,000 transactions of its own annually.
Schlecht was also surprised to see the Madison-area store, which he and other members of the department visited, dealt with firearms. Previously, city officials were under the impression that the store did not handle guns. Exchange Street buys and pawns guns, but does not sell them.
“I don’t think this is a good fit,” said Alderperson Linda Lubotsky, who voted against the proposal along with Alderpersons Shirley Saryan and Pam Akers. "The company keeps referring to itself as a department store, but department stores don’t buy guns.”
According to Exchange Street officials, the store would have created an estimated 40 new jobs and was willing to pay transaction fees ranging from $0.50 for less expensive items to $1 plus 1 percent of the purchase price for items of more than $100. The store would have also reported all transactions daily, allowing the police department to scan for stolen property.
Exchange Street community affairs director Chuck Armstrong said his company would have invested $1 million into the Greenfield location between the time of approval and the time of the store’s opening.
He also said all Exchange Street store belong to their city’s chambers of commerce and that store managers must be active in the community.
“I think Exchange Street is a real good opportunity for Greenfield,” said Alderperson Thomas Pietrowski, who voted for the proposal along with Alderperson Karl Kastner. “Irrespective of what business comes in there, there will not be the amount of traffic that this business could bring in there. I think they’ll do a good job. They’ll attract a good client base.”