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Zoning change puts West Allis resale business at risk

City brainstorms to keep shop in business while limiting abundance of pawn shops

Feb. 26, 2013

West Allis - It was a fresh new year, but everything turned dark for a business that moved into a commercial space and started remodeling only to find that its kind of business was no longer acceptable under the area's commercial zoning code.

The news was heartbreaking for Janice Edwards, owner of Playroom Closet, which had been in business for more than a dozen years at 93rd and Greenfield Avenue. She moved her children's clothing and toys consignment resale shop to 1320 S. 108th St., West Allis, where a heating and air conditioning business had operated. She spent a lot of money on remodeling and then walked into City Hall to arrange for an occupancy permit.

"She was absolutely shocked," to learn that in 2011, the city had wiped resale shops off the list of businesses permitted under regular commercial zoning, said Steve Schaer, manager of the planning and zoning division.

Pawn shops popping up

The 2011 change had relegated second-hand shops to only a few areas of the city. The reason is that the city was being inundated with gold and pawn shop businesses asking to locate there, said Gary Barczak, an alderman for the area.

"The ordinance was aimed at them," Barczak said.

The city didn't want pawn shops up and down Highway 100, he said.

Unfortunately, Playroom Closet, as a second-hand dealer, is lumped in with those other businesses, he said. It could stay where it was even after the zoning code change because it was there before the change.

Schaer remembers having to tell her the news: "She was overwhelmed."

But there is a tentatively happy ending to the story.

Edwards put in a desperate call to Alderman Michael May, who with Barczak also represents the area. Together the two aldermen searched for an answer. In less than two hours they had one - at least a temporary one.

The city could issue a temporary occupancy permit, allowing the store to open. Meanwhile, they would work on how to tweak the zoning ordinance to still keep pawn shops out of regular commercial zoned areas, but allow beneficial businesses such as Playroom Closet.

Taking a risk

With Mayor Dan Devine and building inspections signing off on the temporary occupancy permit, the proposal went to Edwards, who willingly took the risk that meant light at the end of a long, dark tunnel.

It's a risk, May acknowledged. If the council doesn't change the zoning, she will have to move.

Not wanting to upset the rickety process, Edwards declined to comment. Besides needing the zoning code change, she is still going through the normal city inspection process in order to open, which could be in the next couple of weeks, if all goes well.

But Barczak and May are pleased with what they see as a valuable business that can stay in the city, at least for now and possibly as long as it wants to.

There is a world of difference between pawn shops and Playroom Closet, Barczak said.

"When you have a good business, you should welcome it in the city," he said. "We wanted to do everything we could to make sure it could stay here."

Barczak noted that the business' disaster scenario has turned into a feel-good story, at least so far.

"We're not out to hurt businesses," May said. "We want good businesses to survive and thrive."

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