City Hall Council Chambers

The City Council Chambers inside Racine City Hall, 730 Washington Ave.

RACINE — A pawnbroker who wants to open a business in Racine must wait for a change in city rules before he can establish an operation at a shop on Douglas Avenue.

Tom Stout, one of the owners of GNT Jewelry and Loan in Kenosha, originally approached the City of Racine about opening a similar operation in town in May. He said he wanted to open a pawnbroker and convenient cash business at 2504 Douglas Ave. The specific building Stout selected posed an issue because of its proximity to people’s homes.

City rules prohibit pawnbrokers and convenient cash businesses within 250 feet of a residential district. The rule, a city memo states, aims to limit such activities to areas that are solely commercial and to “control their proliferation throughout the community.” According to city staff, the Douglas Avenue location is adjacent to and across from residential districts.

Racine’s City Plan Commission in May recommended denial of Stout’s request for a conditional-use permit to operate the business.

On June 5, Stout and some of his supporters testified to the City Council about his plans for the property and asked for approval of the permit. The City Council sent the request back to the commission for further review, asking that staff look at the ordinance and recommend changes that could permit a business like Stout’s in that spot. Aldermen commented that Racine has a history of posing obstacles to business owners, and this case would be an opportunity to try to reduce some of those barriers.

About the business

According to Stout’s application, the pawn and loan shop would be open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday, and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturdays. The second-hand store would provide small loans for products including jewelry, televisions, electronic equipment and industrial tools, among others. It would not deal with vehicles, motorcycles, firearms or ammunition, the application states.

The Kenosha location is successful and has a good reputation with police and the community, according to the application.

“GNT is committed to maintaining a professional store that cooperates with law enforcement and benefits the community,” the permit request reads.

Stout wrote that he believes his business would provide an “important financial service to members of the lower and middle classes,” plus create at least four new jobs and improve the property with landscaping and routine maintenance.

The application included letters of support from the Kenosha Police Department and the alderman of the Kenosha district where his business is located.

Stout told The Journal Times he expected to face hurdles as he pursued a Racine shop.

“It’s a misunderstood business,” he said. “Once people can actually see how we are, what we are, what we do, it usually changes some minds.”

City staff’s recommendation

The Racine Police Department, according to city records, said that staff members appreciate business growth but that “from a law enforcement perspective, such growth must be healthy, without presenting a threat to public safety.”

Stout’s pawnshop could “upset the fragility of this recovering neighborhood,” the documents state.

“Given the hard work to reduce burglaries in the City of Racine to the lowest level in recorded history, this proposal presents a yellow flag to police officials,” the records state.

City staff, along with the Douglas Avenue Business Improvement District, expressed additional concerns. Not only are they worried that a pawnshop could be “detrimental to the comfort and general welfare of the area,” but some members of the BID were also reportedly worried about the potential impact on future business growth and development.

Business friendly?

After the City Council returned the issue to the Plan Commission, staff researched how other communities handle businesses like Stout’s. Based on the research, the city’s records state, staff do not recommend changing Racine’s rules.

On Wednesday, the Plan Commission again met on Stout’s request. The ordinance remains the same as it did when aldermen first considered Stout’s application and, as a result, unanimously recommended denial.

City staff said Stout could reapply for the permit if the council changes the ordinance. Alderman Steve Smetana, who represents the 5th District, told the commission he would work to make the changes.

Stout said he understood the commission’s decision and that he remains interested in opening his shop at the Douglas Avenue location. He said he has many customers from Racine who come to his Kenosha store and believes a local establishment would be a good fit.

His attorney, Andrew Rosenberg, encouraged city officials to consider how friendly Racine is to businesses that are trying to open in town.

“The process to bring business into Racine should be made easier,” he said.

The City Council has final say on the commission’s recommendation.

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Sari Lesk covers the City of Racine, Gateway and UW-Parkside. She is new to the community and moonlights as an amateur baker.

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