Volume 75, Number 5 | June 22- 28, 2005

Chelsea adult video store is closed after prostitution bust

By Jefferson Siegel

Villager photos by Jefferson Siegel
Deputy Inspector Dennis DeQuatro lowers the gate of The Blue Store.
Last Friday, police made an arrest for prostitution inside The Blue Store, an adult video store on Eighth Ave. between 20th and 21st Sts., then padlocked the store.

Early Friday evening around 7 p.m., a plainclothes Vice Squad police officer entered the store and within a few minutes was solicited by a male prostitute. The suspect was taken outside, handcuffed and arrested.

Deputy Inspector Dennis DeQuatro, 10th Precinct commanding officer, then led a group of precinct officers, Vice Squad officers and the Police Department’s Legal Bureau and Civil Enforcement Unit into The Blue Store. He said a court-ordered closing was being enforced because of “numerous arrests for prostitution over the last several months.” He said the store was a “legal establishment,” but the soliciting was not, which led to the closing. No merchandise was removed.

About a dozen customers slowly filed out of the store over the next 10 minutes. More potential customers continued to try to enter the store, but officers posted outside the door politely told anyone who appproached, “Sorry, the building’s closed.”

Michael Petrillo, 10th Precinct community affairs officer, pointed to two narrow rows of videotapes and DVD’s in the back of the store under a sign reading, “VHS Supersale 4/$25.” “That’s where they keep the Disney tapes,” he said, referring to the loophole in the adult-use zoning law that allows stores to sell pornographic material as long as they maintain a 60 percent ratio of non-adult materials. The cartoons appeared to constitute far less than the legally mandated 60 percent.

The police lawyers explained the situation to the store’s managers. The lights were turned off and the managers and police stepped outside. DeQuatro locked the door lowered the electric metal gate.

Allen Schwartz, deputy managing attorney of the Police Department’s Legal Bureau, Civil Enforcement Unit, and Larry Goldstein, a police lawyer, taped copies of the court order onto the gate.

The order was issued under the city’s Nuisance Abatement Law. Earlier that morning, Goldstein and Schwartz had appeared before State Supreme Court Justice Barbara Kapnick and presented evidence of the prostitution solicitations. She agreed with their findings and signed the order.

However, it was a temporary closing. The store was closed for three days over the weekend and was expected to reopen as early as Monday. Lawyers for both sides would be in court early this week to argue their cases. The owner would ask for permission to reopen, and “it’s up to the judge what stipulations” or requirements the owner must agree to before being allowed to reopen, Goldstein explained. Fines would be levied for the prostitution violation; one of the stipulations would be that prostitutes not be allowed to operate inside the store again.

The store at 206 Eighth Ave. has been a concern since first opening in May 2003, said Danielle DeCerbo, Chelsea community liaison for City Councilmember Christine Quinn. “Christine has been in contention with the owner about the window display [at first, garish blue lights] in a neighborhood near schools and churches,” DeCerbo said. “They were cited for violations of Department of Building signage rules and the Chelsea community did leafleting urging customers not to patronize them,” she recalled.

Quinn’s staff was not expecting prostitution at the store, DeCerbo said, “but the 10th Precinct has been doing spot checks and we’re glad they’re on top of the situation.”

When the store opened two years ago, Wade Watson, president of the 20th St. Block Association, told The Villager, “It’s in the center of a residential block. Our children walk right by there.’’ P.S. 11 is around the corner on 20th St.

On display in the store’s windows last Friday were various DVD’s, lotions and other exotica, such as wooden paddles, a leather hood, padded handcuffs, several whips, a blindfold, restraints and an item labeled, “Edible Male Gummy Undies — in Strawberry.” In deference to the neighborhood, there was also a rainbow-colored flag.

As the police packed up last Friday evening, a crowd gathered, attracted by the bright stickers on the store’s gate. One man paused and yelled out, “Another victory for Jerry Falwell!” No one else applauded his sentiment, so he walked away.

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