"Plain and simple, they’re trying to put me out of business,” Johnnie O’s proprietor John Haltom told XBiz.
Clerks at the Fenton and Florissant stores confirmed that the highway ads “wouldn’t make anyone drive off the road,” but a new Missouri law states that the content of the billboard is not the issue, but the content of the business it advertises.
The law stipulates that no business featuring employees who appear nude or that devotes 10 percent or more floorspace to adult merchandise can advertise on Missouri roads.
In this case, the issue is with two stores that, according to Haltom, sell 75 percent lingerie, which is not considered adult material in Missouri, and 25 percent adult-oriented toys, magazines, and videos.
Both Haltom and his lawyer, Andy McCullough, acknowledge the displays at the Johnnie O's stores contain more than 10 percent adult-oriented items. But McCullough said it should take more than that for a store to be considered adult.
Sen. Matt Bartle, a Republican congressman, sponsored the billboard legislation, which has been challenged unsuccessfully by a consortium of Kansas City strip clubs.
"The porn industry is always trying to clothe itself in legitimacy," he said.
Bartle is also proposing legislation requiring customers at Haltom’s store and others like it to pay a $10 entrance fee to be remanded to the state as well as an additional 20 percent sales tax.
“He [Bartle] has already said he’s not interested in the tax revenue,” Haltom said. “He just wants us gone.”
Haltom has been in business 18 years, operating similar shops in Utah, Colorado, Nebraska, and Missouri, where his parents own a lingerie store called Doctor John’s. He originally had seven billboards up in the area of central Missouri but needed to remove all but two, which stayed because they were erected before the law went into effect.
Haltom has called the Missouri law unconstitutional and last week filed suit so that he could advertise new stores he is opening as well as the Kansas City-area competitor he is taking over.
Haltom said that his stores are more about romance than hardcore material. “We want people to come in, buy the product, and leave,” he said. "There are no private booths or performances. Adult stars do not make promotional appearances. We don’t want customers to have intimacy here. They can have that at home.”