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Antique dealers still argue over obscure law

Pat Patera

A Las Vegas legislator was robbed, and three of his wife’s 40 filched jewels were recovered at an antique store.

Years later a Reno bureaucrat went on a crusade.

Now antique dealers say nobody deserves the Spanish Inquisition.

The dealers, many of whom are retirees who keep a booth at one of Reno’s many antique malls, continue to show up at Reno City Council meetings seeking a solution.

The problem, they say, is an obscure law passed during the 2003 Legislature, which lumped antique dealers with pawnshops in a regulatory effort to prevent sales of stolen goods.

But the law gathered dust. No municipalities troubled to enforce it except Reno.

Last fall, dealers got letters and visits from city officials demanding they submit to background checks,

fingerprinting, eight-page personal and financial questionnaires and a host of fees.

“A gung-ho code enforcement officer dug this up and ran with it,” says Bill Hance, a dealer at Antiques and Treasures.

Hank Tavener, owner of Virginia Street Antique Mall, says city employees visited antique malls asking for a list of dealers, and requesting that each dealer take inventory weekly. That gets complicated when dealers pull seasonal items that are gone, but not sold.

“I just don’t get why they need that information,” Tavener says. “I’ve had the same people in this store for 15 years and they never had to go through this.”

Marita Van Laningham, a dealer for 20 years at Virginia Street Antique Mall says, “We’re presumed guilty. I resent that deeply. The idea that we’re dealing in stolen goods it’s become ludicrous. The eight-page questionnaire is most offensive.”

Some dealers folded. Others moved out of Reno. A few pushed back, attending six city council meetings to voice their concerns.

In response, the city council told its staff to conduct an audit of city business licensing procedures. Chris Good, assistant to the city manager, presented the resulting 17 recommendations to the city’s licensing procedure.

“If I had designed a presentation to snow some of my friends, that was it,” says Marvin Jacobsen, a dealer at Virginia Street Antique Mall. “The methodology was flawed. I was really disappointed that they had been dragging their feet. And they continue to think of us as pawnbrokers.”

Dealers don’t feel the city is being square with them.

Hance says, “Coming away from the city council meeting I felt exasperated. And right now I feel I’d better duck. I called the police chief a liar and the city PR guy a fox in the henhouse.”

But Van Laningham says the city council is beginning to understand the situation.

“It was obvious they weren’t aware of everything that was going on,” she says. “Reno is the only place trying to enforce it. One person has made a personal crusade of it. This time around the city council is a lot more aware.

Within a few weeks the city will convene a task force to include antique dealers to review the licensing process, says Good.

At issue is the privileged license, required for businesses that have an impact on the community. It’s required of pawnshops, strip clubs, gun sellers and of late, antique dealers.

Since antique dealers first met with city legal staff members in February, the city asked the State Attorney

General’s office for clarification. A moratorium on the privileged license for antique stores is in effect until a decision is delivered and dealers need only a business license at least for now.

Tavener thinks the city is biting its nose to spite its face.

“Antique malls generated $40,000 in taxes for the city in six months,” he says. “We’ve had a lot of little people doing big things. The city is hunting for revenue and will lose revenue if they chase little people down the tubes. They get nothing from a garage sale.”

Van Laningham says one marketplace scheduled at the Reno-Sparks Convention Center closed down, and another moved from a Reno venue to Sparks.

And it’s too late for Arlene Shier at All R Yesterdays, a 15,000-square-foot antique mall on South Virginia. After 25 years, she’s going out of business at month end.

“My dealers heard the building was sold,” she says. And the uncertainty over enforcement of the law makes them unwilling to take a chance on a new location.

Says Hance, “Nothing will happen until the legislature changes the law.”

Antique dealers plan to lobby lawmakers in the 2009 session.