Using a stack of Monopoly money, Suzanne Stern demonstrated her interpretation of how pawn shops function during a public hearing before the James City County Planning Commission meeting Wednesday.
She piled the bills on top of the lectern to demonstrate a hypothetical situation in which a she pawned family heirlooms to help make ends meet after losing her job, but never earned enough to buy back the beloved items and instead incurred more and more debt because of the interest rate and late fees.
The planning commission later voted to recommend the Board of Supervisors approve limiting pawn shops, payday lenders and title lenders to two zoning districts — general industrial districts, and limited business and industrial districts — but only with a special-use permit. George Drummond (Roberts), Richard Krapf (Stonehouse), Robin Bledsoe (Jamestown), Christopher Basic (Berkeley) and Tim O’Connor (At-Large) voted for approval. Al Woods (Powhatan) and Mike Maddocks (At-Large) were not present at the meeting.
Though Stern may not have received the vote she wanted, she did receive an answer to the question she posed to Bledsoe at the end of her speech: What changed Bledsoe’s mind about pawn shops?
In a Jan. 17 Planning Commission Policy Committee, members — including Bledsoe — discussed the possibility of banning pawn shops, payday lenders and title lenders from the county. But in a followup meeting on the topic last month, Bledsoe said she had based her previous opinion on misconceptions about pawn shops.
In researching pawn shops, she said she realized many people do not have checking accounts and pawn shops offer a collateral loan that will not affect one’s credit.
“I realized that because I have not been in that situation, I needed to understand what happens, why people go to them and what services they do provide,” Bledsoe said at Wednesday’s meeting.
She also found there was a national association for pawn shops and law enforcement heavily regulates them.
Virginia Code gives local governments the right to limit the number of pawn shops in ordinances and regulates the interest rates pawn shops can charge: no more than 10 percent on items less than $25; no more than 7 percent on items valued between $25 and $100; no more than 5 percent for items worth more than $100. Pawn shops are also prohibited from selling a pawned item within 45 days.
Bledsoe said though she discovered a purpose for pawn shops, it does not mean she supported them completely.
“Are they ideal? No. I think they meet the intent of the zoning descriptions and I think they are in such a placement that they do allow the population to get to them that need them,” she said.
Two other speakers, father and daughter Jay and Kelly Dunbar, at the public hearing presented a case for pawn shops in the county. Jay Dunbar is a James City County resident who owns a pawn shop in Hampton.
“I have for years wanted to move up here for business,” Dunbar said. “We’re not bad people. We work hard, we provide a service … My business does a very decent job with the customers that we have.”
He asked the planning commission not to be so restrictive with the regulations; he said he did not want the pawn shops to be cut off from bringing their services to the community members who need it.
Dunbar addressed concerns that pawn shops work with criminals, but said the pawn shop industry may be the most regulated of all businesses. He said he recently worked with police to turn in a man suspected to have pawned a stolen item, turning in video footage and a photograph of the person so police could track him.
The General Assembly passed legislation this session that would require pawn shops to maintain digital copies of identification used in pawn shop transactions. The bill awaits Gov. Bob McDonnell’s signature. Pawn shops are already required to maintain the full name, address, phone number, ID number, and a description including height, weight, date of birth, race, gender, hair and eye color and other identifying marks of the person pawning an item.