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West Allis talking to pawn shop owners about improving behavior in residential neighborhood

June 24, 2014

West Allis — Neighbors of Pawn America in West Allis say they're tired of the store's customers cutting through their yards, urinating on their garages, parking them in and making them feel unsafe.

Thy are strongly urging West Allis aldermen to refuse to Pawn America's license renewal to stay in business.

Aldermen have heard some of the complaints before and officials of Pawn America at 76th Street and Lincoln Avenue had promised to make things better.

But neighbor Brianna Olson said "Things are getting worse."

The Common Council License and Health Committee decided last week to sit down with Pawn America officials and make a list of things that need to appease neighbors' concerns. Deadlines will be set and aldermen said they would hold the company to them.

Otherwise, it could affect whether the city renews Pawn America's license, officials said. Pawn America has been at the West Allis location for about two years.

Chuck Armstrong, chief legislative officer for nationwide Pawn America, told the committee he has no problem being held accountable.

"You can hold us to it," he said.

Alderwoman Cathleen Probst said she had heard Pawn America make similar promises last year. Probst is alderwoman of the district in which the pawn shop is located.

The store had promised to hire a security guard, she said, but the one it hired is not someone who can handle people walking by and being harassed "by having vile things said to them."

"They're defecating in backyards and urinating against fences," a disgusted Probst said.

And the store's parking is insufficient so customers park in front of a dental office that serves elderly people who then can't find anywhere to park, she said.

Pawn America has tried to alleviate the overflow parking by renting six stalls across the street at a gas station, said Kristen Roberts, Pawn America district manager. It also posted private parking signs to protect neighbors, she said.

But renting the spaces across the street only moves gas station employee parking onto streets, said Alderman Marty Weigel, who also represents the area.

"I'm going to say that's not part of the solution," he said. Finding enough parking is tough, he acknowledged, "You're parking 10 pounds in a five-pound bag."

Weigel also said that judging by neighbors' complaints, the store isn't closing at 8 p.m. as it is supposed to.

That will stop, Armstrong said.

"From this point forward, 8 o'clock will be 8 o'clock," he said, adding that employees will not be allowed to congregate in the parking lot after 8 p.m., either, which was another sore spot for neighbors.

"You need to keep the neighbors happy," Weigel warned.

Probst said police also are frustrated that surveillance camera footage they have requested has been unavailable due to equipment failures. It's not acceptable that recordings are not available from cameras, agreed city attorney Scott Post.

The store's cameras should be linked to the Police Department as the city does with some other establishments, Probst said.

The store and the police have been working on a hookup, Armstrong said.

But residents left the meeting with doubts.

"Seventy-sixth and Lincoln is not the appropriate location for a big-box retailer," Olson said. "You wouldn't have okayed a Target there."

Pawn America customers have to use the alley next to homes to enter and leave the store so the contact with neighbors is close.

The business that previously occupied the building was a jeweler. About 20 percent of his business was pawn, officials said. Pawn shops are permitted in that area.

But residents say this highly successful pawn shop has brought an element into their quiet and safe neighborhood that has created a climate of fear.

"Neighbors live in fear," neighbor Pauline Glainyk told the council at the citizen participation period. She grew up there and said she is afraid to walk past the store, and she won't let her daughter walk there, either.

"This was a nice beautiful neighborhood," said another neighbor who uses a walker. Now she said she's afraid someone will come into her garage behind her.

"Please defend our neighborhood," she pleaded.

"I'm thinking about selling my home," said Carla Krueger whose voice choked with emotion. "I don't want to, but I'm in fear."

One time a Pawn America customer swore at her and made an obscene gesture when she asked him to move his car that was blocking her garage, she said.

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