Everett may lift rule that barred antique shops in downtown

  • Fri May 7th, 2010 10:18pm
  • News

By Debra Smith Herald Writer

EVERETT — The Spare Room Vintage Market on Hewitt Avenue draws plenty of shoppers with its tidy black-and-white awning and window displays.

The shop sells vintage items and antiques. Susan Gates-Ludwig, the shop’s owner, said the community has welcomed her with open arms.

Under Everett codes, the shop isn’t supposed to be here.

In 2006, the city designated sections of Hewitt, Colby, Wetmore and Rockefeller avenues as “retail streets” and limited the type of businesses that could set up shop in street-level storefronts.

No second-hand stores, tattoo parlors, pawnshops, food banks and other businesses the city considered incompatible with a walkable, window-shopping atmosphere.

Officials are now taking another a look at the restrictions on second-hand stores, after property owners complained it was making it more difficult to fill empty buildings.

“We have so much resistance to put antiques on Hewitt, and I don’t get it,” said Dennis Wagner, also known as Downtown Dennis. He owns a real estate business that manages thousands of square feet of downtown space.

He’s one of the people who approached the city about changing the restriction. He said the city turned down requests to fill vacant storefronts with a vintage clothing business and a new-and-used office supply store.

“Our cry to the city is we think we could lease every vacant space if we could have antiques and boutiques,” Wagner said.

The city is working on a solution.

Everett’s Planning Commission has already talked about changes and plans to discuss the issue again on May 18. The City Council would still need to approve any changes suggested by the commission.

The original idea to restrict businesses on certain streets came from people in Everett, said Allan Giffen, planning and community development director.

The city solicited people’s ideas when they put together a 110-page downtown plan and this was one of them. People told the city they didn’t want the most walkable areas downtown to become an indoor yard sale, Giffen said.

People also didn’t want prime street-level storefronts used as a warehouse for building owners to store their excess stuff.

The term “second-hand store” isn’t defined by city code. That means — right or wrong — everything from thrift stores to high-end antique sellers are not allowed on designated retail streets, Giffen said.

Gates-Ludwig, owner of the Spare Room, said the term “second-hand store” doesn’t do her shop justice.

“I’m not second-hand,” she said. “I was offended by their wording.”

The shop sells furniture, home accessories and gifts — much of it vintage or antique. Vendors with items rent out space in her shop. She controls quality by requiring her contractors to work their spaces on a regular basis.

“Once a week, they have to clean it, locate it, price it, touch it,” she said. “Anything that hasn’t sold in a week needs to be changed is my philosophy.”

The city’s restrictions are overkill, Gates-Ludwig said. No one in this economy could afford to lease a space and not move merchandise, she said.

Gates-Ludwig opened her shop in the spring of 2008, not knowing about the restrictions. The restriction is just one thing, she said, that has made running her business in Everett difficult. She mentioned aggressive parking enforcement and a separate, extra business license she has to apply and pay for as a second-hand shop.

“They are scaring business off,” she said. “I don’t think they realize it.”

Public hearing

Everett’s Planning Commission is expected to discuss potential changes that now prohibit second-hand merchandise at a hearing on Hewitt Avenue 6:30 p.m. May 18 at the 8th floor hearing room at 2930 Wetmore Ave.