Store owners selling vintage clothing, used books and vinyl records in D.C. are soon getting relief after city investigators swept through Adams Morgan earlier this year and told owners they needed to get a new business license or risk being shut down.
The sweep was conducted by a Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs officer and Metropolitan Police Department investigator and targeted shops that sold used goods but had either not renewed or had never applied for a secondhand goods license, which is typically held by pawn shops. Unlike a regular business license, which can be applied for online and costs $300, a secondhand business license requires from the applicant a biennial criminal background check, fingerprints and $700.
Since the sweep in April, business owners have been lobbying DCRA to clarify the D.C. code so that stores selling vintage items are exempted. After input on two earlier attempts to revise the code, DCRA published new regulations last week in the D.C. Register that exempts most items found in used goods stores, including books, magazines, vinyl records, clothing, rugs or tapestries, furniture, art and some types of jewelry.
Cathy Chung, co-owner of Meeps, which was included in the sweep, said the move caused confusion among D.C.'s vintage retail shop owners. According to shop owners' accounts at the time, the investigators "interrogated" owners and managers about whether they had a secondhand business license and in one case asked a manager in front of a customer if he had a criminal record.
"It had never really been enforced before," Chung said of the secondhand license. "It was something the older businesses seemed to know ... but the newer businesses, even though we were explicit about what we were selling, we were told we qualified for a regular license."
The sweep created such an uproar that many called it a "raid" on shops. With the help of a local attorney who worked pro bono and the Adams Morgan Partnership Business Improvement District, a coalition of shop owners worked with DCRA for an exemption.
Kristen Barden, the BID's executive director, said the current regulation that lumped in used goods shops with pawn shops had created a burden for her district's business owners.
"It's really a victory, we're pleased," she said. "This resolves an issue that has been a longstanding problem -- unfortunately it took the raid back in April to get it all together."
DCRA spokesman Helder Gil said no stores were shut down or fined after the April incident.
The new regulations are open for public comment through mid-September. Gil said the agency hopes to make them final by the end of that month.