Secondhand sales

Several downtown Baraboo stores, including Back Door Antiques on Third Street, have posted flyers objecting to a city ordinance governing the sale of secondhand goods.

BEN BROMLEY/News Republic

Baraboo leaders say new procedures for regulating secondhand sales are designed to protect theft victims but some local merchants say the changes could be bad for business.

Tweaks to city code and procedure governing secondhand sales, spurred by a push to put local regulations in line with state law, have riled business owners. Signs dotting storefronts read, “Stop Ordinance 12.03 from destroying downtown Baraboo!”

City leaders met Wednesday with two dozen affected merchants at the Baraboo Civic Center to clear the air. Some merchants were relieved to learn their businesses weren’t affected. Others bristled at paying for an annual bond that would allow them to get restitution if duped into buying stolen goods, as well as a transaction fee and a seven-day waiting period required for the sale of any of 16 items flagged by state statute.

Police Chief Mark Schauf said theft is becoming more common as drug addicts turn to crime to fund their habits. Law enforcement agencies across the country are monitoring transactions at pawn shops and resale shops to put stolen goods back in the hands of their rightful owners.

“We’re concerned for you as business owners getting cheated out of your money, but we’re looking out for victims, too,” Schauf said.

After five years with its current online transaction tracking system, the city decided to switch to LeadsOnline to monitor secondhand sales. Entering into a contract with LeadsOnline required an inventory of the secondhand dealers in the city. Schauf dispatched investigators to visit merchants and determine how many sell items including microwaves, bicycles and musical instruments.

These visits were followed by a Nov. 10 letter from the city informing merchants that had to comply with the city ordinance and apply for a secondhand seller’s license.

Schauf said detectives’ visits weren’t meant to cause concern. He didn’t reach out to merchants when the ordinance tweaks were proposed because they made city code less restrictive, to better line them up with state law.

Merchants said they were made to feel like criminals. While some won’t be affected much by a per-transaction fee under a dollar, some — like Spin Shack, which sells used music and movies — fear it’ll be crippling.

“You’re telling me how much my markup can be,” Spin Shack owner Tiffany Opperman said.

Any dealer who buys goods from a private party in their store needs to be licensed, and to participate in the city’s anti-theft program. The goal is to prevent merchants from losing money when stolen goods are seized, preventing resale.

“My role is to try to protect you as much as I can,” Schauf said. “Drugs tend to be a fuel for this.”

He said the ordinance change was adopted at open meetings no one from the public attended. City offcials didn’t anticipate backlash until the flyer circulated.

“I didn’t know there was a lot of concern and discontent,” Mayor Mike Palm said.

City leaders didn’t disagree with merchants who said some aspects of the state law governing secondhand sales seem silly, and that its gray areas make for challenging interpretations. But city code must line up, as it can’t be less restrictive than state law. “The statute is one-size-fits-all,” Palm said.

Follow Ben Bromley on Twitter @ben_bromley