Elk River City Council says ‘no’ to pawn shop at Elk Park Center

by Joni Astrup

Associate editor

A pawn shop will not be coming to an Elk River shopping center.

Ryan Brown of Twin Cities Pawn proposed putting a pawn shop next to Leeann Chin restaurant in Elk River, but the City Council has said ‘no.’

The Elk River City Council voted 4-1 Monday, July 16, to deny a request by Ryan Brown of Twin Cities Pawn to operate a pawn shop in the former Hollywood Video store. The site is located along Highway 169 at 19179 Freeport St., next to Leeann Chin restaurant and in the Elk Park Center shopping center.

Voting against the pawn shop locating there were Mayor John Dietz and council members Paul Motin, Nick Zerwas and Jerry Gumphrey. In support of the pawn shop in that location was Council Member Matt Westgaard.

Zerwas was one of the council members most vehemently opposed to the proposal.

He said in the five years he worked at the Anoka County Sheriff’s Office, hundreds and hundreds of items of stolen merchandise were recovered from pawn shops throughout Anoka County.

“He (Ryan Brown) very well may run a reputable business,” Zerwas said, “but the individuals that are drawn to pawn shops to unload items may not know that and they’re going to go there and whether or not they are able to pawn those items or not they are now in our community, they’ve been drawn there … This is a business use that is known to attract criminals. It’s a fact.”

The council can say no to a pawn shop in Elk Park Center and, Zerwas said: “So I say no.’”

Brown, of Minneapolis, owns Twin Cities Pawn.

“People have the impression that pawn shops create crime,” Brown told the council early in the meeting. “… I would say that’s definitely not the case.”

He said he’s never seen a study that says pawn shops create crime.

Criminals do occasionally bring items into a pawn shop, Brown said, but then it’s known who pawned the item, authorities can get the item back and the person can be prosecuted.

Elk River Police Capt. Bob Kluntz told the council that in researching the matter, Brown seems to run a pretty professional business at his other stores. He also has pawn shops in Ramsey, Osseo and Oakdale.

Kluntz said having a pawn shop in Elk River would increase the police department’s workload, but it was difficult to say by how much.

The police department would be doing audits and spot checks of the business as well as looking at the records Brown would be required to submit daily, Kluntz said.

Council Member Westgaard said he doesn’t have an issue with a pawn shop in Elk Park Center.

He likened it to a consignment shop or second-hand exercise equipment store.

“It’s the fact that it has the word ‘pawn’ in it is what seems to be the stumbling block for some of us,” he said. “I don’t have that fear or that stumbling block.”

Council Member Motin said it’s not a matter of fear and said he has no problem with Twin Cities Pawn. But, right or wrong, he said there is a certain stigma with pawn shops, and it attaches to the development around it. A pawn shop at Elk Park Center would be detrimental to the rest of the businesses there, Motin contended.

Mayor Dietz said he didn’t have much of a problem with the pawn shop proposal initially, but has changed his mind. A lot of people have approached him about and he’s also talked to police officers.

“I haven’t talked to one citizen that thinks it’s a good idea that we have a pawn shop in Elk River,” Dietz said.

He said he was always somewhat disturbed by the proposed location and doesn’t think a pawn shop there would do a lot for the city’s image.

Council Member Gumphrey said he doesn’t have a problem with a pawn shop but also does have an issue with the proposed location.

One citizen also addressed the council on the matter. That was Michael McDonough, a candidate for the Ward 3 council seat. He opposed the pawn shop, telling the council he didn’t like the idea of having a place in Elk River to quickly ditch stolen items.

In the end, the council voted 4-1 against amending the Elk Park Center Planned Unit Development to allow pawn shops as a conditional use in the shopping center. The decision went against the advice of the Elk River Planning Commission, which had reviewed the request in June and recommended that the city council approve the amendment.

The former Hollywood Video store is owned by BPBH Limited Partnership in San Francisco, Calif.

In an e-mail to the city, BPBH Director of Operations Sue Wong wrote that the former Hollywood Video has been vacant for the past three and half years and it has been a challenge to fill the space due to the struggling economy.