Wellesley Merchants argue against fur ban bylaw, cite slippery slope

Nearly two months ago we interviewed a Wellesley College professor and town resident about a citizen petition she filed to ban fur sales in Wellesley. At the time, the Wellesley Square Merchants’ Association was staying neutral on the proposed bylaw, and word about what would become Town Meeting warrant article 46 hadn’t spread throughout Wellesley’s retail community.

But this past week at the Wellesley Advisory Committee meeting focused on Town Meeting articles, the Wellesley Square Merchants’ reps spoke out against the proposed bylaw, saying it would give retailers in neighboring communities an edge. This sentiment arose at a recent merchants meeting, said Association President Demian Wendrow of London Harness. He expressed concern that a ban on fur sales would limit individual choice by buyers and merchants, and could open the door to prohibitions on other products, from leather to steaks.

“We are fighting a serious battle with online and the ‘A’ word, Amazon,” Wendrow said during citizen speak remarks. “By preventing us to sell products within a single town deepens that gap that we cannot afford. Lastly, now’s not the time, with everything going on…we would prefer for the state to make this decision.”

Neither Wendrow nor fellow retailer Kelly Leisman of Gretta Luxe said fur contributes greatly to their revenue. In the case of London Harness, the store carries a hat with a fur pom-pom. But the retailers say not having the choice to sell such products would have an impact on their customers and relationships with suppliers. Then there’s also the issue of faux fur being made of plastic, another bad word these days, Leisman said. The retailers didn’t discount the value of educating the public about animal treatment, but said a bylaw wasn’t the way to do it.

Advisory voted 7-6 against recommending the article after Chairman Todd Cook broke a 6-6 tie. But he said his report to Town Meeting would indicate that the vote was really split. “I’m torn on this,” Cook said. “I’d rather it be more of a grassroots effort on the part of merchants or perhaps others to make a statement themselves rather than have the town pass a bylaw change…”

The petition is spearheaded by Wellesley resident, Wellesley College Professor and Humane Society of the United States volunteer Liza Oliver, who defended her proposal at the committee meeting. She cited the fact that big name luxury retailers from Prada to Versace and mainstream chains from Talbots to The Gap have committed to being fur-free, and that laws banning fur sales are in the works across the country. She argued the majority of people in Massachusetts and beyond are eschewing fur and that the nation’s moral compass is always changing. “Legislation should reflect that,” she said.

California has a fur ban going into effect in 2023, led by efforts in Los Angeles and San Francisco. Wellesley would be the first Massachusetts community to ban fur sales if the article is approved and other steps are taken. (More details of her proposal are available on the Fur-Free Wellesley site.)

The idea that Wellesley would be the first community in the state with such a ban concerned some Advisory members. Rusty Kellogg said Wellesley already has challenges enforcing existing rules, so asked why institute another regarding something that isn’t a big problem in town in the first place? Another Advisory member questioned how much Wellesley wants to get into adding bylaws about global or national issues (a phenomenon we discussed in our recent post “Wellesley citizen petitions: Keeping Town Meeting lively, current, worldly.”)

You can review the discussion during the first 45 or so minutes of the Wellesley Media recording of the Advisory Committee Meeting embedded below. Town Meeting is slated to begin March 30, so Town Meeting members will have its say on Article 46 then.

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