WOONSOCKET – Despite a series of actions by the City Council to keep any more pawn shops from opening, Fall River Pawnbrokers has renewed its request for a license.
Most surprisingly, the application identifies the location of the sought-after shop as 118 Main St., even though that site has already been leased to another business, Liberty Market.
Fall River Pawnbrokers contends it has a valid lease for the building that the landlord is legally bound to honor, despite the installation of another tenant.
“We maintain we have an executed lease at that location and we’re entitled to that spot,” said Ernie Sprague, the director of growth development for Fall River Pawnbrokers.
The renewal of the application is the latest chapter in what has become a controversial issue for the City Council. In December, the panel voted 5-2 to reject the company’s application for a license, calling into question the company’s trade practices. The company appealed to the Budget Commission, threatening legal retaliation.
While commissioners appear to have concluded the company has a clean track record, they took no action on the appeal. Meanwhile the City Council voted last week to cap the number of pawnbroker licenses in the city to two, both of which are already held by Daniel Baldelli, operator of the Gold Loan Company – and one of the most ardent champions of the cap.
The only two councilors who voted against the cap, Council President John Ward and Vice President Daniel Gendron, argued that it doesn’t merely hand Baldelli an unfair business edge, it’s anti-business, period. On a Main Street that’s sorely in need of a jump-start, they say the city can’t afford to be picky about who fills vacant storefronts.
But even supporters have questioned whether Fall River Pawnbrokers can offer a legitimate application without identifying a valid, available location to set up shop
“It’s a red herring,” counters Vincent Mesolella, a spokesman for Fall River Pawnbrokers.
Mesolella said if there is a dispute over the validity of his lease for 118 Main St., it’s none of the council’s business. It’s a separate issue that has no legal bearing on whether Fall River Pawnbrokers is entitled to a license.
“They could make it an issue, they could say there’s someone else occupying the property,” said Mesolella. “But so what?”
Mesolella contends Fall River Pawnbrokers secured a lease on the property with the option to cancel in the event the license was not secured. Fall River declined to exercise the option, and even paid rent on the building for the first month’s occupancy to the landlord, Steve Kang.
“He has no right to arbitrarily rent that property to someone else,” said Mesolella. “We sent him the rent. He sent it back.”
Kang tells a different story, however.
He says the lease was granted to Fall River Pawbrokers on condition the company secured a license within 60 days of signing. Kang says he waited until the very last day before he leased the building to Liberty Market, which had been forced to abandon a site across the street after a fire.
Fall River Pawnbrokers tried to give him a check for February’s rent after the lease expired, and he did sent it back, Kang said.
“I didn’t want it.”
The City Council is scheduled to take up Fall River Pawnbrokers’ second request for a license at the now-disputed location on Monday in Harris Hall. The meeting begins at 7 p.m.