The Astoria City Council may consider a ban on pawn shops amid concerns about gun sales downtown.
Councilor Cindy Price and Mayor Arline LaMear, at a work session Wednesday, voiced their unease about a new pawn shop slated to move into a vacant storefront on Commercial Street. The council was meeting to discuss its overall vision for Astoria’s future development and where the vision intersects with city policies and codes.
Councilors Bruce Jones and Zetty Nemlowill said the council needs to approach a potential ban on pawn shops carefully. Jones said he doesn’t want to ban pawn shops outright.
If such a move were proposed, councilors need to figure out what specifically they are trying to address, Jones said.
“I just think that you look at cities that have pawn shops, you look at downtowns with pawn shops, and it’s not what I consider the unique character of Astoria,” Price countered.
Councilor Tom Brownson agreed, saying a pawn shop “doesn’t fit” what the council wants the city to look like in the future.
Price and LaMear said they are most concerned about the sale of firearms from pawn shops, given the slew of mass shootings across the country. Price said a pawn shop could also place an extra burden on police if it became a market for stolen goods.
Pawn shops are a new situation for Astoria. There are no special requirements when it comes to opening such a business in the city beyond a minimal extra fee to operate. City planning staff processed the pawn shop coming to Commercial Street as a retail sales establishment.
Deputy Police Chief Eric Halverson said police have been talking with the pawn shop’s owners, who also operate a shop in Longview, Washington. When there had been concerns about stolen items at that shop, the owners had cooperated with police.
“Whether pawn shops create crime, I really couldn’t say,” he said.
Pawn shops in Oregon are regulated by the state. By law, the shops have to keep a record for every transaction and deliver copies of the records to local police.
At City Manager Brett Estes’ request, the Astoria Police Department will collect data about how other cities have addressed pawn shops moving into town. Estes will consult with City Attorney Blair Henningsgaard as well and have more information for the City Council in December. Anything the council decides is unlikely to impact the current pawn shop, but could affect businesses trying to move here in the future.
During the discussion Wednesday, Nemlowill asked about strip clubs and other businesses councilors probably wouldn’t want to see more of in Astoria.
“We haven’t even scratched the surface,” she said.
Nemlowill said banning pawn shops “may be something we need to talk about, but I think we’re focusing on that because there’s a particular proposal.”
Jones understands Price and LaMear’s concerns, he said, but pointed out that firearms are already available for sale elsewhere, notably at Fred Meyer in Warrenton.
Councilors must define what they mean by the “unique character” of Astoria before they can move forward and push for new policies or code changes, Jones said.
Astoria’s “unique character” could refer to the city’s long history as a logging and fishing town, with canneries lining the waterfront, or it could refer to moves the city has taken to try to preserve waterfront views and reuse historic buildings, he said.