Fears of crime and lower property values are cited.
Mark Smith wants to open a pawn shop in a vacant storefront in Roseville, but he's not getting a warm reception from residents who live nearby. The city's planning commission and police aren't keen on the idea, either.
The Roseville City Council will have the final say when it votes Monday, but it is expected to agree with the planning commission's recommendation to deny Smith a permit to open a MaX it Pawn at the site of the former Hollywood Video on Snelling Avenue across from Har Mar Mall.
It would be the second time Roseville has rejected Smith's attempt to open a pawn shop in the city, but he is finding other metro cities, including St. Paul, share the same feelings. That reaction, Smith said, smacks of prejudice against his business even though he already runs 10 MaX it Pawn stores.
"The battle is having people willing to understand what the new pawn shop is and lose preconceived notions that they're places with bars on the windows and a guy behind bulletproof glass with guns selling porn," he said. "I am a retail business. All my employees wear uniforms with logos, my stores are extremely clean and well lit, and we don't do guns. People throw strip joints, pawn shops, gun shops and tattoo parlors in the mix. I'm not mad at them, but it takes commitment to understand, and most [people] will take the path of least resistance. It's easier to say no."
Last week, Smith withdrew his application to open a MaX it Pawn in the former Nedved's Flowers space in the 2500 block of W. 7th Street in St. Paul's Highland Park neighborhood. He rescinded the application partly because of public outcry and an April 7 resolution by the Highland District Council encouraging the St. Paul Planning Commission to deny his request.
Smith was turned down in February in Oakdale, which earlier this year passed a one-year moratorium on new pawn shops opening there. Other cities, such as St. Louis Park, have enacted restrictions limiting the number of pawn shops. Like St. Paul and Roseville, Maplewood requires a conditional use permit.
In Roseville, Smith planned extensive remodeling of the space at 2057 Snelling Av. N., including enlarging the windows, installing new awnings, relandscaping the grounds and putting up a fence between the parking lot and adjoining residential housing. But that was not enough to allay residents' fears that the store would attract criminals, lower property values and lead to an overall negative perception of the neighborhood.
"I'm strongly opposed to the granting of a permit for this unsavory business," Roseville resident Donald Molenaar wrote in an e-mail to the city. "Should such a permit be granted, this would facilitate the transition of the north Snelling business corridor to a Midway Center scenario and help to cement Roseville's reputation as an inner-city suburb."
Those concerns were among the reasons Roseville in 2008 rejected Smith's request to open a pawn shop a few blocks up the road. The planning commission cited the same issues this month when it recommended rejecting his most recent application.
"It is one of those uses that most folks have stereotypes about," said Pat Trudgeon, Roseville's community development director. "It seems the industry has changed somewhat, but there are still issues with them today."
Roseville has one pawn shop that saw about 25,000 transactions in 2010, a 13 percent increase over 2009, said police Chief Rick Mathwig. He said adding a second pawn shop in the city would place too much of a burden on the few detectives who would have to investigate any complaints of stolen merchandise and divert their attention from other cases.
But even if another pawn shop didn't bring crime, it could bring the fear of crime, which would affect residents' quality of life, Mathwig said.
"If people are more fearful, even if not grounded in reality, it makes them less likely to go for a walk in the evenings," he said. "We are not in favor of [MaX it Pawn] moving to Roseville."
Smith did win support in Bloomington, where he recently bought the former Nevada Bob's site and plans to open there soon. He also won approval to build a store and retail complex on the former Suburban Chevrolet site in St. Paul. Smith said he has plans to open up to 15 more stores, but first he might have to fight to clear up the misgivings people have of his business.
"Some cities won't let me in, others are open and understanding," Smith said. "Roseville seems set in their ways and unwilling to be open to a new idea and concept."
Tim Harlow • 651-735-1824 Follow Tim on Twitter @timstrib