Cash-for-Gold, gone? For good, says Squilla’s office

[STORY UPDATED May 16, 12:30pm]

Not only is the gold-buying store across from SugarHouse closed, no such store can open there again.

The city’s department of Licenses & Inspections was expected to issue a “cease” order Friday, after being convinced by the offices of First District Councilman Mark Squilla and Council President Darrell Clarke that it never should have opened there in the first place.

“It’s going to be closed,” said Squilla’s legislative assistant Sean McMonagle.

For this specific establishment, PhilaGold, that point is likely moot.

Near neighbor and local activist Jethro Heiko tells PlanPhilly that this morning, “everything is gone, no signs, nothing.. It appears that they are actually really closed down.”

The store had only been open for a few days when neighbors and civic groups took note and vowed to fight it, saying it could lead to more neighborhood thefts or muggings, and encourage people to sell items to get money to gamble or to buy drugs or alcohol. The brought in Squilla, Clarke and Deputy Mayor for Economic Development and planning commission chairman Alan Greenberger to help. Squilla is heavily involved in waterfront issues and represents much of the riverfront; the store sits in Clarke’s district.

Newsworks’ Emma Jacobs reported earlier this week that the store was closed and owner Kim Bui (or Khiem Bui as it is spelled on city records) said the business gave him “too many headaches.”

Fishtown Action (aka FACT) and Fishtown Neighbors Association responded as soon as they learned the store has opened.

“I have to say I was very impressed with how swiftly Squilla & Clarke jumped on this,” FACT’s Maggie O’Brien said.

But since this was the second time neighbors and city officials fought a gold-buying establishment on this very spot, they were concerned they might have to keep fighting the same battle.

“I hope it does not come back,” O’Brien said. “Hopefully, we won’t be talking about this again in two years.”

“We should not have to,” McMonagle said. “It is a prohibited use now.”

This was the second time council and others rallied against a gold-buying store at the same location. The first time was in 2011. Signs went up then, but the store never opened.

Neither the community nor city leaders expected a gold-buying establishment to open at the site – which fronts on Columbus but has an official address of 112 E. Allen St. – even back in 2011.

Zoning prohibits pawn shops so close to a casino, and FACT, FNA and others on both sides of the casino issue considered cash-for-gold to be a type of pawn shop.

However, the zoning code didn’t specifically include cash-for-gold in the pawn definition. Council made zoning code changes soon after the signs for the first gold-buying store went up.

The 2011 store already had a permit to operate as a jewelry store with an accessory use of buying previous metals. With that kind of permit, no more than 25 percent of the physical space within a store could be dedicated to the metals part of the business.

But McMonagle says the earlier permit no longer applies, since it has been way longer than the code-stipulated 90 days since that regulated use occurred at the site. And the changes made to the code since then prevent new permits for such a business to be issued, at least over-the-counter, he said.

A jewelry store permit was issued in 2010, and another was issued on May 27, 2011, but was updated on Nov. 18, 2013. The permit itself says that no activities defined in section 14-1605 will be allowed.

McMonagle told L&I the store is a “personal credit establishment,” which is a regulated use within an area zoned for casinos, and not allowed without a special exception. The code’s says: “If a regulated use ceases or discontinues operation for a continuous period of 90 days or more, the regulated use may not resume, or be replaced by any other regulated use unless it complies with the regulated use requirements of this section.” No business had been conducted at this site for much longer than that, McMonagle said.

In an interview last week, Bui told PlanPhilly that he was not offering credit or taking items for collateral the way a pawn shop does, nor was he cashing checks. He said the “pawn” written on the back of the store’s business cards was a printer error, and that he was only purchasing gold and jewelry and selling jewelry.

There were jewelry cases in the store, but they were empty. Bui said he would buy jewelry to sell if there was demand for it.

But McMonagle said that is also all a moot point, because jewelry stores are not allowed in a casino district, either.

Earlier this week, L&I inspectors cited the recently opened gold-buying business with zoning violations.

According to L&I’s website, inspectors found PhilaGold to be operating without proper zoning and signage permits last Saturday.

No one from L&I has returned PlanPhilly’s requests for comment, but at first, Squilla was told that L&I’s next step was to inspect again on June 18 to see if the owner has completed their zoning application.

After Squilla and McMonagle made the arguments to L&I that the regulated use had not been occurring at the site for much longer than 90 days, L&I decided to issue the “cease” today.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.