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Risky business
Federal law could signal the end of local thrift stores

CONYERS - A federal law enacted to protect children from lead and certain plastics could prove poisonous to consignment shops who cannot afford to certify merchandise on the shelves to meet the new standards.

That's the prospect Kelley Collins, owner of Sprouts consignment store at the Honey Creek Village, said she faces. Fearful of suddenly being in violation of the law when it becomes effective Feb. 10, Collins said she will close her store that specializes in clothes, toys and accessories for children in foster families and with special needs.

"We don't have a corporate attorney on retainer, and we're closing, (but) not because we're not doing well. We're closing because of this law," Collins said Thursday. "For little guys like us, there's not much we feel like we can do."

The Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008 was passed by Congress in August to protect children 12 years old and under from lead and phthalates, industrial chemicals used to make certain plastics more flexible or resilient.

The law covers any item sold for use by children and was passed in reaction to the discovery of lead paint in toys manufactured in China in 2007.

However, the law was made to take effect retroactively to cover all items rather than just new items manufactured after Feb. 10.

Robin Price, manager of Kid to Kid, a used children's clothing and toy store in Conyers, said that there is real fear from her customers and fellow retailers that the law in its present form will force many retailers out of business because they will be unable to comply with the new federal standards.

"As a parent, I'm certainly in favor of anything that protects children, but the problem of the law is that it is very poorly written and it's not being implemented very well," she said. "Right now, it's not something that can be monitored and can take effect without gross economic repercussions."

Price said manufacturers will likely have the means to certify items they produce, but retailers are caught in the middle because the Consumer Product Safety Commission, the federal agency in charge of implementing the law, has yet to set guidelines on how to certify items are lead-free.

Items not certified as meeting the new standards would be considered a hazardous substance. Violations would open retailers to hefty fines, Price said.

"You're talking about billions and billions of dollars worth of inventory that will not be able to be sold," she said. "People are going to be filling up landfills with products we aren't able to sell."

Price said her store will stay open and feels confident Congress or the new administration under President-elect Barack Obama will do something to correct or revise the law.

Collins said she just wants to be able to pay her consigners and allow them to get their unsold stock out of her store. She does not believe she will be able to reopen even if the law is changed.

"I'm anal about things like this, but I want everybody to get paid and be able to get their things out of the store," she said. "I don't want to run the chance of things being closed and my consigners not have access to their things."

Shirley Smith, who operates Repairers of the Breech, a 22,000-square-foot consignment shop on Washington Street in Covington, said Thursday she had not heard anything about the new federal law.

"I would have assumed I would have gotten a letter or something," she said. "I think they're jumping the gun on this because anything harmful would be things like items from China that have lead in them or things that have been discontinued or already taken off the market for safety reasons."

Smith said she would be concerned more about toys containing lead rather than clothing. She said the law sounded heavy-handed.

"We're basically a ministry operation, but we sell to the public so we would fall under any laws covering retail," she said. "At Christmas, we opened up the store to 350 families to get things they need without charge, and that's a way of life for many people. I can't believe the government would pass something like this with the economy as bad as it is."

Jay Jones can be reached at jay.jones@rockdalecitizen.com.