Adult Superstores Find a Home in the Heartland

Matt O'Conner
ABILENE, Kan. – There was a time when fans on a quest for adult entertainment could find an abundance of bookstores and video arcades in the downtown area of the nearest major city.

But stiff competition, high rent and strict municipal codes regulating the sale of adult material and novelties are increasingly forcing adult retailers to abandon their urban locations and move their shops to rural interstate towns.

The Lion's Den chain operates 29 stores in the Midwest, mostly off remote freeway off-ramps in sleepy little cow towns like Abilene, Kan., Quaker City, Ohio and Nelson, Mo.

And the availability of cheap land is giving rise to an entirely new breed of clean, well-lighted adult superstores whose extensive stock rivals that of their mainstream brethren.

The advent of these massive shops has caused heated debate in otherwise quiet communities, where many citizens say they oppose such businesses, then vote to keep them around by becoming customers.

One advantage of locating so far off the beaten path is that most rural communities have no past experience with adult retailers and, as a result, few or no regulations regarding the sale of sexually oriented material.

As a general rule, if the stores are far enough from local homes, they meet with little protest.

But as adult entertainment becomes more popular, and stores market themselves more aggressively, citizens in the affected communities often find themselves wrestling with ‘big-city’ issues they’ve never faced before, including what constitutes obscenity.

Sometimes, as in the case of one Lion’s Den, the debate leads directly to the courtroom. The chain’s Abilene store is facing criminal obscenity charges and has filed a countersuit against Dickinson County for trying to restrict its right to sell adult-oriented merchandise. The case will be heard later this month.

If Lion’s Den loses, the decision could set a precedent making it more difficult for retailers to continue their expansion into the heartland.