Two years ago, Marco Gigliello shut down his Mount Laurel jewelry store, Reflections of Venice, and opened a cash-for-gold shop along Route 70 in Cherry Hill.
Erlton Cash for Gold has jewelry, coins, and silverware on display, but "nobody buys anything," Gigliello said, standing behind the counter of his shop one afternoon last week.
He instead makes his money selling gold to refineries. It's a business that, in a sign of the times, has exploded in Cherry Hill. The township now counts 27 cash-for-gold shops, up from five just five years ago.
Now the township wants greater authority to regulate those shops, already subject to a state law requiring that they turn transaction records over to police.
Those records, however, are often on paper, slowing police efforts to search for stolen goods, according to township officials. They want to require dealers of secondhand goods to install computer software and report transactions through an electronic database within 48 hours.
"It's a better, more organized way of documenting what they take in," said Lt. Sean Redmond of the Cherry Hill Police Department, which asked the township to consider additional regulations.
Besides the computer database, the regulations would require secondhand dealers to be licensed by the township, with an annual fee of $300. The Township Council is to vote on the proposal Feb. 11.
"This, I think, is a very prudent move, given the changing times," Council President David Fleisher told councilors while introducing the proposal at a recent meeting.
Cherry Hill isn't alone in seeking greater regulations on cash-for-gold shops, which, like pawnshops, have benefited during the recession from a combination of economic distress and higher gold prices.
Unlike pawnshops, many cash-for-gold businesses don't offer short-term loans and are not subject to regulation by the state Department of Banking and Insurance.
Following on a police initiative in Toms River, the state Association of Chiefs of Police has been pushing for legislation to improve regulation of secondhand dealers.
The number of such dealers in Toms River, which has an ordinance setting its own reporting requirements and penalties, has climbed from 14 to 29 in the last five years, Detective Mark Bajada said. He works with other departments to consider or enact ordinances in their towns.
"Not every police department is enforcing this, so it makes it very frustrating for some departments that are doing it," Bajada said.
State Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D., Gloucester) said he had been working with Toms River police, though legislation is only in discussion.
"We're looking to strengthen what's already out there," Sweeney said, referring to existing state regulations. "We're respectful to people that own businesses. . . . The problem is people stealing things and selling them. With a bad economy, it's that much worse."
The state Office of Weights and Measures requires gold buyers to follow certain rules, including weighing the precious metal in front of sellers and displaying their prices.
It also requires buyers to take down sellers' names and addresses and obtain proof of their identity.
But the information buyers record from drivers' licenses varies, Redmond said. Many don't take down a date of birth, for example.
Details that buyers provide when describing items of jewelry also differ, although "that documentation has gotten better," Redmond said. He said most buyers had complied with reporting regulations.
"They don't want a bad reputation," he said.
At We Buy Gold, tucked into a strip mall on Route 70 near Springdale Road in Cherry Hill, operations manager Steve Shildt said the business, one in a chain of 11 shops, had already started sending records electronically.
"To us, it's no big deal," Shildt said, noting that two other locations also report purchases by computer. "But I understand some of the other business owners don't care for it."
Gigliello, who didn't know of the township's proposal until informed by a reporter, said he would oppose any new regulation of his business, noting that he already takes records to the police daily.
Instead of making rules for businesses like his, the government "should have shut the banks down," he said. "They always come to the small people, and let the big people do whatever they want."