Adult Video Store Raises Concerns

Sexstore

OCEAN CITY –
The prospect of an adult video store setting up shop in a north Ocean City
shopping center had local business owners and town officials scrambling this
week to see if there are ways to prevent the morally questionable enterprise,
but for the moment it appears the new owners are within their rights to open
the new business.

It came to
light this week that a Salisbury business is leasing a corner store formerly
known as Crazy Beach Wear along Coastal Highway in the Bayside Plaza on 137th
Street for the purpose of opening an adult video store. Although adult
magazines and videos are discreetly offered in other areas throughout town
including most convenience stores, town officials believe this is the
first-ever retail store opened for the sole purpose of providing the materials.

The
not-yet-named business applied for a business license recently but Ocean City
Zoning Administrator Blaine Smith refused to sign off on it before the new
owners presented a lay-out of the interior showing the ingress and egress areas
met fire and building codes. When the fire codes and building codes are in
compliance, the resort will have little choice but to approve the business
license, at least in the short term.

“Pornography is
regulated by state law,” said Smith. “As long as they comply with state law,
they have a right to do it.”

While the new
owners may have a right to open an adult video store in the middle of a
family-oriented area of town, Smith said there should be something in place to
prevent it.

“There is an
expectation we just don’t have that type of business here,” he said. “It may be
out of character for a town like Ocean City.”

The shopping
center, and thus the store, is in a LC-1 zone, or local commercial district,
according to the town code, which allows for strip shopping centers providing
all kinds of stores and shops consistent with retail business. The zoning
classification spells out a wide variety of acceptable businesses but makes no
mention of pornography or adult-themed stores.

“It’s really
wide open in terms of what types of retail are allowed,” said Smith. “We don’t
have the term ‘adult’ anywhere in our code.”

Ocean City has
been successful for the most part in keeping morally questionable operations at
bay throughout the resort. In cooperation with Worcester County, the resort
effectively regulated tattoo parlors and piercing establishments out of
existence a few years back, but there is nothing on the books to prevent an
adult video store. Nonetheless, Smith believes the town could take a similar
tack with this new operation.

“There may be
ways to regulate it, but not prohibit it,” he said. “We have special
regulations for so-called dry nightclubs, for example, and a few years ago we
adopted regulations on tattoo parlors and piercing establishments. Whether the
Mayor and Council can come up with something, I don’t know.”

The resort has
also been successful in keeping strip clubs and adult entertainment clubs out
over the years through licensing and zoning and there could still be a way to
prevent the adult video store from opening, according to Smith.

“There are ways
of getting around certain things,” he said. “For example, you can’t get a
liquor license for a strip club in Ocean City. That has been effective in
keeping those out.”

Regulating
business on the basis of some moral objection is a slippery slope, and the town
could find itself in a battle if it attempts to prevent the adult video store
from opening.

“Freedom of
expression, freedom of the press, censorship – you have to tiptoe around those
things,” he said. “There are a lot of issues constitutionally.”

Meanwhile, news
that an adult video store was opening in the shopping center had business
owners fuming this week. The shopping center is in the midst of a particularly
tame part of town with several restaurants, arcades, miniature golf courses and
other family-oriented amenities close by and the advent of an adult video store
has store owners and residents searching for a way to prevent it.

For example,
Donna Cefaloni of Cefaloni’s Italian Deli, which operates just a few doors down
from the proposed adult video store, is rallying her fellow store owners and
residents in the area to fight the new enterprise.

“Ocean City is
a family resort town,” she said. “I do not believe an adult film store belongs
in this community. This is a family town.”

Cefaloni
acknowledged the adult store owners may be within their right under current
town codes to open the business, but she objects on the grounds of what is
consistent with the existing neighborhood and business climate.

“Free
enterprise is one thing,” she said. “To be able to conduct business, it should
have to be consistent with what the community offers – what is around it
already.”

Another shop
owner in Bayside Plaza, Sandy James of Creative Day Spa, agreed opening an
adult video store in the middle of an otherwise kid-friendly area of town
should be prevented.

“We’re very
upset,” she said. “We’re concerned this could cultivate a clientele that is
unsavory.”

James said the
shopping center is frequented by families and children and the store in
question has been a destination for kids in recent years.

“A lot of
children including my own spend time in that shopping center,” she said. “They
use that arcade, which has been there for 30 years, and they go into that
store. They’re used to going in there for hermit crabs and beach stuff.”

The units in
the shopping center are treated as condominiums complete with intricate by-laws
and covenants. If the town does not have something on the books to prevent the
adult video store, it remains a possibility there may be something in the
condominium by-laws to stop it from opening, according to James.

“We have
contacted a lawyer,” she said. “We should be able to stop it. We have covenants
and by-laws that govern the types of businesses that are allowed.”

The shopping
center is in the middle of the Caine Woods community in north Ocean City. City
Councilman Lloyd Martin has the unique perspective as a town elected official
and vice president of the Caine Woods Association, as well as the father of two
young boys, to weigh in on the issue.

“That’s not
what we want to see here,” he said. “I certainly don’t want to see it. I have
two young kids – a 10-year-old and a 9-year-old boy –  and I’m pretty sure I don’t want this in my
neighborhood.”

Martin said the
town has been successful in regulating the type of business operated in the
resort in the past and will take a close look at whether or not to address the
adult video store. While there may be precedent for preventing them elsewhere,
this will be a new issue for resort leaders.

“The county
addressed the tattoo and piercing issues in the past,” he said. “What do you do
with an adult video store?”

Martin said
community backlash against the proposed pornography outlet could hold greater
sway then anything the town attempts to do from a regulatory perspective.

“This could be
a situation where the market takes care of it without a protracted response
from the town,” he said. “I don’t know that there would be much demand for that
in a community like ours.”

While the Ocean
City Police Department has no regulatory authority in terms of what type of
businesses are allowed in town, the nature of the pornography business would
likely cause resort cops to keep a close eye on the proposed adult video store,
according to OCPD Public Information Officer Barry Neeb.

“Our
concern is that they operate within the guidelines of the law,” he said. “It’s
a community issue. We’re not there to make a moral judgment.”

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