June 11, 2013

Tossing the ED Coin: Heads, You Win

I’m talking about economic development, folks, not erectile dysfunction. That's a whole nother post entirely.

Let me tell you, economic development happened here in Syracuse the other day.  Not the traditional, ‘give a company a boatload of tax breaks and hope’ kind, but the real, every day kind that happens in cities all across the country, on a very regular basis. 

There are two sides to the economic development coin – and as with most coin tosses, one side is good for someone, the other less so.  When the coin was tossed here, we saw both winners and losers.
You may have heard the tale of The Sound Garden, the downtown Syracuse staple, home to concert tickets, vinyl music, and other second-hand entertainment.  Part of a two-store chain (the other’s in Baltimore), at Sound Garden they buy yours, you buy theirs – CDs, albums, games, movies, the whole gamut. It’s a funky vibe like no other in Syracuse; they have a devoted following (my Albany brother-in-law can't visit Syracuse without making a pit stop there, for example); they're in Armory Square -- so you'd think they had it all going on, right?

Well, not so fast.

Syracuse has an updated law on the books that requires second-hand stores to log all of the used items they purchase, and provide reports to law enforcement. They are also required to hold items for seven days before re-selling them, and only stay open until 8PM. The point of the law, which was changed last summer, was to better allow the Syracuse Police Department to track down 'stealers-sellers', the people who rip off the big box stores and dump the merchandise wherever they can, and to make it harder for them to make their quick buck by instituting the early closing time on merchants who sell used stuff.

The consequence was that it also cracked down on music collectors and funky people.
The logging and reporting part that was a big issue for Sound Garden.  With over 40,000 used items purchased each year, the costs of implementing a computerized system for tracking and reporting, and to hire the two full time employees to do that work, were prohibitive.  

Bryan Burkert, Sound Garden's owner, and Jake Barrett, head of the Common Council’s Public Safety Committee, butted heads in talks to get a compromise deal worked out. Burkert preferred a total exemption from the law, something he says other cities routinely give record stores. Barrett (the same guy who wondered if we needed to be a little kinder and gentler to parking scofflaws), offered concessions on hours of operation and a two-day reduction in the hold period, but wasn’t going to go any further. After things fell apart, Burkert announced that he would close his Armory Square shop and find someplace else to do business, outside the city limits.

Sadness hung over the store; the entire process, played out in the press, left a bad taste in our collective mouths. Surveys were circulated, a Facebook fan page was born, and just about everyone waited to see what would happen when the lease was up.
When all seemed lost,  Mayor Stephanie Miner and Councilor Khalid Bey (in a past life, he was a hip-hop star known as The Most Talented) worked out a compromise with Burkert and his local attorney that would allow Sound Garden to stay open later than 8PM Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, and require them to only log the first five items they purchase in any single transaction and summarize the rest. For their part, Sound Garden will continue to get a copy of a photo ID for all transactions, which should help Syracuse’s Finest track down people who steal items from one store and resell them at another. The compromise was approved unanimously by the Common Council yesterday. 

And so Sound Garden, Armory Square, small business owners and funky people everywhere, call it in the air.

Heads, you win.

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