The XBIZ Weekly Retail Round-Up

Tod Hunter

Owner of Topless Bar Sues City, Claiming Harassment

OCEANSIDE, Calif. — The owner of the Main Attraction, Oceanside's only topless nightclub, has sued the city and one of its police detectives, accusing them of harassing the business.

In a complaint filed in San Diego Superior Court, club owner Gene Edick claims the city's "outrageous conduct" — from a police search last March to a code enforcement citation over neon lighting — has hurt business and caused him emotional distress.

City Attorney John Mullen denied the allegations in an email this week that "the city has not restricted the strip club's business activities in any way."

The club's 12-page complaint, filed by Edick and his company, Brogdon Properties, claims police locked down the Main Attraction on March 14 "without probable cause due to an inadequate and tainted search warrant."

It accuses the city of accessing private business records, disseminating "trade secret" information and making false allegations of misconduct. Details in the complaint are few.

Edick filed a damage claim last year for at least $250,000, which the city rejected.

"We absolutely have no comment," said Josh Kaplan, the nightclub's attorney.

According to the search warrant affidavit filed last year, police received a citizen complaint that someone was selling drugs at the club. Undercover detectives twice obtained a single painkiller from a bartender, prompting police to argue there was "probable cause" to believe more evidence of drugs and drug paraphernalia would be found at the club.

Superior Court Judge Joan Weber signed the search warrant March 7.

Police arrested the employee, who later pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of furnishing a drug without a prescription, court records show. She was put on a year's probation.

The club's lawsuit accuses the city of trespassing, harassment, invasion of privacy, infliction of emotional distress and interference with economic advantage.

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Strip Club Zoning Battle Ends Quietly

PICO RIVERA, Calif. — A fight over where to allow strip clubs and other adult businesses in the city is over, officials said.

After a public hearing last week the City Council voted to change its zoning ordinance controlling adult businesses. No one came forward to speak at the hearing.

"I'm not an advocate of these types of businesses, but I'm glad that we're doing this," Mayor Gracie Gallegos said. She said the change will control the locations of businesses to protect children while also protecting the constitutional rights of business owners. The new ordinance prohibits adult businesses from locating within 1,000 feet of each other, or within 150 feet of a school or residential zone.

City Manager Chuck Fuentes said city staffers took their time working out the new ordinance in an effort to personalize it for the community. While most cities with adult business zoning ordinances require a 500-foot separation from residential zones, Pico Rivera's existing neighborhoods made this impossible.

"If we were to go to the standard, which is 500 feet, we wouldn't be able to build anywhere," Fuentes said. "That was one of the issues that confounded us. We did a lot of study."

Controversy about the existence of adult businesses in the city began when Imperial Showgirls moved into a commercial shopping center. Outraged residents picketed the business daily for several months in 2002.

The city created zoning rules to try and restrict the new club, which led the owners to sue the city that year.

The suit produced a 2004 court ruling that the city's policies were too restrictive and therefore violated the rights of club owners. As part of a compromise, the club agreed to close its doors after September in exchange for operating free of restriction in the meantime. The owners of that business can never open another like it in the city, according to the agreement.

Once that business closes, its location will not be eligible for another adult business, under the new ordinance.

Calls to Imperial Showgirls were not returned.

"They ran, for the most part, a very efficient business in that we have not had a lot of police calls to that location," Beilke said. "They have not impacted us like we feared."

According to Beilke, the new ordinance is part of an effort to be better prepared in the event that another adult business is introduced in Pico Rivera.

"What we did was what we should have done five or six years ago, and then we wouldn't have one of these businesses opening next to a McDonald's," Beilke said.

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Adult Entertainment Ordinance Passes

NEW ALBANY, Ind. — The city council amended the previously passed live adult entertainment ordinance and then unanimously approved it. The changes are switching the closing time of an adult club from midnight to 3 a.m. and exchanging the six-foot no-touch rule to five feet.

Caesar chaired the council committee that investigated the ordinance and said the changes were meant to coincide with legal precedents to ensure the laws are constitutional.

“It’s a fair evaluation of what’s best for the community itself,” City Attorney Shane Gibson said.

It took City Clerk Marcey Wisman 40 minutes to read the lengthy ordinance into record during the meeting. Despite the changes, Red Scott — manager of the Rustic Frog, a semi-nude club — still took issue with the restrictions.

He cited an informal survey his door manager took last Thursday, Friday and Saturday, which recorded the residency of patrons through information on their identification cards.

According to Scott, 938 people visited the club over that period, of which 557 were from Indiana and 212 from Floyd County. His point was that local residents like the club and like how it’s being run.

He further defended Rustic Frog by saying it has an economic impact on New Albany. He said there’s not another local draw that can lure 340 people from Kentucky to it in three days.

“Name another business that brings that kind of revenue to Floyd County,” he said.

But the ordinance passed and Rustic Frog will have 60 days to conform to the new rules, which replaced a past ordinance deemed by city legal counsel to be unconstitutional.

The plan commission will take up the issue of adult club zoning during its March meeting.

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Store Closes, But the Court Case Continues

REVERE, Mass. — An adult bookstore that has been the source of a constitutional litigation case with the city over the last 17 years has shut its doors this week.

The Moon-Lite Reader is now closed due to location problems, a downturn in the economy and a lack of reliable employees, according to co-owner Ted Drabkowski.

“We’re closed," Drabkowski said. “I’m not sure if it’s a temporary issue or something more permanent, but we’re closed for the short-term, at least, and maybe it could become a permanent situation.”

A small, handwritten sign on the door was all that was left of the controversial store this week, noting that it was closed permanently.

Drabkowski said the economic situation and the new location of the store were two key factors in its demise. The store moved in 2006, amidst great public outcry.

“The economy in general has affected us, and moving to that particular location wasn’t exactly beneficial to us because in our business we need to be on a well traveled road,” said Drabkowski. “Being over on Washington Avenue just wasn’t a good place for us in terms of having a well traveled location.”

He also had trouble finding reliable employees to man the store.

“Not only were our business numbers down, but also we couldn’t get good help at all,” he said. “We went through a half dozen or so. The last employee we let go of after only working three or four days for us, and we had to let him go because he was basically looting us.”

The merits of the court case, with all of its constitutional free speech implications, were decided long ago. Even Drabkowski said he and his business partner have been out of the case for quite some time.

What is at issue now is paying the lawyers. Because Moon-Lite won the case, the city is on the hook for paying more than a decade of attorney fees.

Early last year, the city settled one part of the case for $204,000. It dealt with a state Appeals Court case that resulted from the fight over an initial court injunction that was imposed on the city 17 years ago. That piece of the case went all the way to the state Supreme Judicial Court and back again, with the settlement finally coming last year.

“It’s been remanded for a new trial,” Revere Mayor Tom Ambrosino said. “We’re looking for a settlement of something in the $400,000 range, and I think they’re looking for something in the $800,000 range. Hopefully, we’ll settle for something that makes sense.”

Drabkowski said they have several other locations that remain open and they may be looking to open up the Revere store in another location.

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City Council Postpones Adult Ordinance Vote

YAKIMA, Wash. — Restrictions on adult video stores that the Yakima City Council expected to pass Tuesday will have to wait another three weeks.

The city's adult business ordinance, which would restrict the location of stores that sell adult books, videos and other adult novelties, has been debated since last June. It appeared ready for a final vote Tuesday, but owners of two adult businesses objected because they had not seen the final version of the ordinance.

The ordinance would prohibit adult businesses from opening within 500 feet of schools, churches, public parks and residential areas. It also would bar them from opening within 1,500 feet of one another, a clause designed to prevent "red-light districts" in the city.

Owners of two stores that would be grandfathered in and allowed to remain open despite close proximity to each other told the council Tuesday they never received copies of the newest version of the ordinance in the mail.

The council voted unanimously to postpone the matter until March 24.

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