Adult Video Shop Owners Unfazed By Critics

SexStyle

OCEAN CITY – Facing an onslaught of criticism in the
recent week from town officials, residents and neighboring businesses alike,
Ocean City’s newest retail shop, SexStyle, wasted no time hunkering down and
opening its doors for businesstest.

It was Friday when the adult boutique, located at the
137th Street Bayview Shopping Plaza and specializing in DVDs, toys, books and
lingerie for patrons 18 years of age or older, warmed up its neon glowing open
signs, immediately catching the eye of locals who took their continued
disapproval of the establishment straight down Coastal Highway to City Hall
Monday night.

At the Mayor and City Council’s regular session, a handful
of citizens approached the microphone, condemning the new retail store. At the
dais, the council sat with open ears and updated those in attendance on what
the town has done in the past week to legislate stores of this nature.

Everyone who spoke was against the adult-themed establishment
and their questions ranged from creating laws or ordinances to stop it to
revisiting current ordinances dealing with what can be displayed on signs.

Following the statements of one resident, John McDermott,
Councilman Jim Hall was quick to reflect his sentiments.

“I will tell you the Mayor and City Council feel exactly
the way you all do and are really outraged by this,” he said.

Concerning ordinances, both ones in place and ones that
could be drafted in the future, City Solicitor Guy Ayres answered those
questions, saying the town currently does not have any to address an issue like
this.

“With respect to adult book stores, these have been
permitted by the federal courts as being constitutionally protected,” he said.
He continued, saying how other cities and towns have had luck regulating them
though, getting them located in areas that are not frequented by families and
young children.

One example was Baltimore County where it was eventually
able to zone them in only highly commercialized, industrial areas, away from
residential neighborhoods.

“Unfortunately, for instance, in Baltimore County, the
area they were permitted to operate is larger than all of Ocean City,” he said.

Since Ocean City is so geographically confined, Ayres said
the town has to be careful with something like this since the federal court
says you have to allow them somewhere.

“We are going to look into limiting them from being so
many feet or yards from family-related activities and things like that,” Ayres
said. “If we do that, we have to make sure there is an area they can go because
that’s the first thing the federal judge in Baltimore is going to say when the
case gets filed up in federal court. Where you going to allow them?”

As for the sign, Ayres said there are no laws or ordinances
dealing with what can be displayed on a sign either, just ones restricting
dimensions and things of that nature.

With SexStyle meeting all the other town requirements,
Ayres said the town is running out of options, however there may be something
within the bylaws of the center’s condominium association that could throw a
wrench in the gears.

“That may very well be the best protection you have
because if it’s an activity that violates the deed restrictions, the courts
wont interfere with those,” he said.

Sandy James, owner of Creative Day Spa located in the same
shopping center as SexStyle, said all of the business owners in the shopping
center are against the adult-themed store as well as everyone else she has
spoken to.

“The Caine Woods Association is very upset and clients
coming in the salon are upset,” she said. “I haven’t found anyone willing to
admit they are for it.”

James said she is not against the store itself, just its
location. As for the association’s bylaws, she said merchants may have something
that could prohibit the business from being there but would not disclose any
information.

“We’ll let the courts handle it,” she said.

As for adding bylaws to prevent something like this in the
future from happening, James said they have already been added.

In an interview Wednesday at the store, SexStyle owners
Ofir Bouzaglo and Moshe Bitton said the bylaws the association is referring to
are too vague.

“They say nothing immoral can be in the store,” Bouzaglo
said. “Who are they to say what’s moral and what’s immoral? What’s moral for
them is immoral for me.”

The two went on to say how their store carries items that
can already be found all over Ocean City in places such as pawn shops, movie
stores and convenience stores. They even compared their items to ones sold in
the popular chain store Spencer’s Gifts, where kids of any age can walk in and
browse adult-themed material without any type of identification.

“It’s only a retail store, there is nothing unusual,” said
Bitton, who has been familiar with the area for 23 years. “It’s like the
T-Shirt stores, there is too many of them so we thought of something there is
none of.”

Everything has been done by the book so far and the pair
said they will continue to do so. By Friday evening, Bitton said their front
door would boast a large stop sign, warning potential customers that they must
be 18 with valid identification.

Bouzagalo and Bitton said they have been working close
with the OCPD as well and plan on buying an electronic identification
verification system that will check for fake IDs. If someone is found to have a
fake, Bitton said they will turn them over to the police.

“It’s not that I’m coming and want to fight somebody,”
Bitton said. “I’m trying to make a living, I want to work. I thought of something
that isn’t here in the city and I hope I got it right.”

“Bottom
line, if people don’t like it don’t step in the store,” Bouzaglo added. 

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