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Adams Morgan Secondhand Businesses Targeted By D.C. Police Over Licensing Issue

Posted: 04/ 6/2012 12:49 pm Updated: 04/ 9/2012 10:02 pm

WASHINGTON -- Cathy Chung, who co-owns the Adams Morgan vintage clothing store Meeps, will obtain whatever business permits the District of Columbia's Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs tells her she needs.

But until the Metropolitan Police Department showed up at her store on Wednesday to warn her that it would be fined and shut down without a secondhand dealer's license, she said that DCRA, which issues business permits and licenses, had never informed her that she needed anything but the general business license. Meeps has been in business for 20 years; Chung has owned Meeps since December.

Now she's frustrated, Chung said, because of the conflicting information she feels she's been receiving from the agency.

"I don't even think they know the answers," she said. "It doesn't even seem like DCRA knows what the rules are."

Meeps was not the only longtime Adams Morgan business that suddenly heard from the police this week that it needed an additional commercial license.

Adam Schaeffer, manager of Idle Time Books, and lawyer Robert Clayton, who represents Crooked Beat Records, shared similar experiences -- and frustrations.

Schaeffer said that in Idle Time's three decades of selling new, used and rare books, the store has only ever had a general business license. That wasn't a problem until the police showed up on Wednesday to tell him that the store would be fined hundreds of dollars per day if it doesn't obtain a secondhand dealer's license by next week.

Crooked Beat's owner, Bill Daly, said he was told that Crooked Beat would be fined $2,000 per day if it doesn't obtain the additional license.

The problem, according to Clayton, is that the requirements for the various secondhand dealer's licenses under D.C. law don't cover Crooked Beat -- and perhaps some of the other businesses that received warnings this week.

"Bill's business doesn't fall into the confines of the statute," Clayton said.

Under D.C. law, a Class A secondhand dealer license is required for a business that only sells secondhand goods. "Like Goodwill," said Clayton. A Class B license is for businesses that primarily sell new merchandise, but "incidentally" sell used goods "the result of having received that secondhand personal property in trade, or by repossession or as part payment for new merchandise." "Like a pawn shop," said Clayton. A Class C license is for charitable organizations.

Clayton said he's advising Crooked Beat to sit tight while he finds out what exactly will be required of the store (and decides whether to file a lawsuit or petition for a temporary restraining order).

The office of D.C. Councilmember Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), who represents Adams Morgan, told The Huffington Post that the councilmember has asked for more information from the U.S. attorney's office and from D.C. officials. D.C.'s police department told HuffPost to contact DCRA for more information. DCRA hasn't responded to HuffPost's inquiries.

In the meantime, Meeps' Chung and Idle Time's Schaeffer said their stores will also stay open and they'll wait to find out what, if anything, has to be done to comply with the licensing requirements they thought they were already following.

"If we're genuinely not in compliance, we'll just go get the license," said Schaeffer. "Though I think it's absurd they're just telling us this after 30 years."

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