Volume 73, Number 7 | June 16 - 22, 2004

Getting hot about sex shops

By David H. Ellis

It’s a familiar evening setting on Sixth Ave.: couples lingering at the window of an adult store, peering at the videos on display that are framed by a rainbow of feather boas, or a group of teenage girls bashfully giggling and pointing at adult sex toys before disappearing into the Village.

The western side of Sixth Ave., between Carmine and Cornelia Sts. has been under the glow of the ruby and cerulean-blue neon lights of the 24-hour sex shops for several years now. This spring, Exclusive Video II became the third adult store to open on the popular Greenwich Village strip. Although there had been reports of “live sex shows” in the place, this is untrue. However, the store does have video booths in the rear showing X-rated movies.

While current efforts are underway to revitalize the area, including a scheduled restoration of Father Demo Sq. and the reopening of the abandoned Waverly movie theater, many business and community leaders say that the “60/40” law, which was intended to help regulate the number of adult business in the city, has left them powerless in preventing the area from devolving further into a red-light district.

“These places seem like they’ve taken 42nd St. and moved it over to the Village,” said Arthur Strickler, district manager of Community Board 2, about the existence of these adult-theme stores in the center of Greenwich Village. “People have always displayed their displeasure. But you can’t push them out — they’re operating a legal business.”

While Exclusive Video II, Fantasy Party Inc. and Crazy Fantasy Video are some of the most visible of these type stores in the Village, they are not alone. Other adult novelty stores such as Cherry Boxx and Tic Tac Toe on W. Fourth St. and the Pleasure Chest on Seventh Ave. dot the Greenwich Village landscape, making up some of the approximately 135 XXX theaters, strip clubs, novelty shops, adult video and adult bookstores that the Office of the Criminal Justice Coordinator estimates are located throughout New York City.

The agency, which operates out of the mayor’s office and is responsible for monitoring these shops, maintains that the emergence of new stores is due to the problematic nature of the “60/40” law. The statute, which was enacted in 1998 and intended to disperse high concentrations of these businesses and eradicate them from residentially zoned areas, allows adult businesses to remain open as long as 60 percent of their merchandise and floor space is non-pornographic material. For a new store opening in a residential area, the non-adult material could, for example, include the board game “Between the Sheets,” red lace lingerie or sex toys, as long as 40 percent or less of what they sell or display is visual material such as adult videos, magazines and DVDs.

“We see this is a serious quality of life issue but we are hampered because the law has a loophole you could drive a truck through,” said John Feinblatt, O.C.J.C. criminal justice coordinator.

According to Feinblatt, his agency also has to struggle to make sure these stores are in compliance with the law.

“It’s not hard to monitor. What’s hard is enforcement,” continued Feinblatt. “A store that wants to evade 60/40 can do so by restocking its shelves or by cordoning off areas of their establishment to come into compliance — that proves impossibly hard for us to effectively enforce this law when one can evade it by putting Disney films next to X-rated films.”

Many owners and employees of the adult stores believe that the criticism is undue. They maintain that they run a legal business and point to their customer base as an indicator that their presence dovetails with the neighborhood.

“We’re good with our neighbors,” said Yoni, a manager at Fantasy Party Inc. on Sixth Ave. who declined to give his last name. “People come from in the city, around the city and all over the place.”

Melanie, an employee of the Pink Pussycat Boutique, who also declined to give her last name, said she has yet to hear a complaint from the neighborhood about their shop. “Everyone who comes in has nothing but good things to say,” she said.
Despite the popularity of the stores, even neighboring business owners feel that the proximity of the sex shops not only provides a roadblock for an area renaissance, it also affects their business as well.

“Everybody likes the sex shops,” said one restaurant owner on Sixth Ave. who declined to give his name. “But the way they present their business brings in cheap, cheesy people.”

With the O.C.J.C. awaiting a ruling from a state Appellate Court that could allow the statute to be amended, groups on the local level are hoping that their vigilance will prevent the problem from getting any worse.

“We’re keeping an eye on them and we think it is out of hand,” said Marilyn Dorato, presiding officer of the Greenwich Village Block Association and president of Waverly Bank 11 Neighbors. “It’s a complex problem. We’re in the talking stages. We’re trying to figure what to do about it.”

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