The West Hollywood councilman who proposed that his city ban sales of fur apparel, John D’Amico, was quoted in the New York Times last week as saying: “It’s mostly symbolic.”

Huh? It’s not symbolic for many of his city’s retail businesses. It’s a very real and malicious attack on them.

He might think it’s a little symbolic thing. But the West Hollywood Chamber of Commerce last week claimed that 46 percent of apparel retailers, or about 90 shops in West Hollywood, sell fur apparel. The effect on many of them won’t be symbolic.

These are shops whose owners have invested in West Hollywood. As a group, they employ people, pay taxes and help their community’s standing as a magnet for buyers of fashionable stuff. They’ve just been backstabbed by their own city, in a not-so-symbolic way.

In case you missed it, the West Hollywood council late last Monday took the first step to ban the sale of fur in the small city (population 36,000). The final reading is to be held next month, but since last week’s vote was unanimous, there’s a good chance it’ll pass. If it does, that’ll apparently make West Hollywood the first city to ban fur apparel.

It’s not surprising really. The city has a history of making these kinds of “symbolic” gestures. It was the first to ban cat declawing, and last year it banned the sale of dogs and cats in pet stores.

The intent of all those bans is to fight animal cruelty, and who can object to that goal? But the City Council consistently confuses its social-good goal with the right of free people to buy and sell legal products. (At least, legal everywhere else.)

For the record, I’ve never owned a fur anything. I’ve never bought fur as a gift for someone else, and I doubt I ever will. But I don’t want to shop in a city that prohibits people from selling any reasonable thing that’s legal. And I certainly don’t want to live in a city that presumes to know what I should or shouldn’t buy or sell.

The real question for businesses in West Hollywood: What’s next? Will the city ban sales of leather? Beef, pork, chicken and fish? Why not white bread or tobacco or nonorganic fruits and vegetables?

For that matter, why wouldn’t the City Council take the next step and tell businesses what they should pay their employees? Why not require more vacation time? Or mandate that all companies provide nearby day care?

In fact, the City Council could pass all kinds of symbolic-gesture ordinances. For that matter, there’s little reason to think the city will stop now, given the council’s history of stepping on the rights of its businesses and its people.

According to a radio report last week after the vote to ban fur sales, three retailers in West Hollywood made moves to terminate their leases and two others stopped their expansions.

I wouldn’t be surprised if more businesses quietly slip out of West Hollywood. If I were a business owner there, I would leave now. It may be the most reasonable thing to do.

And if anyone asked why I was leaving, I’d tell them to think of it as just a little symbolic gesture.

Charles Crumpley is editor of the Business Journal. He can be reached at ccrumpley@labusinessjournal.com.

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