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Court legalizes adult shops

By Gabriel Rom

A recent court ruling by the state Appellate Division upholding the legality of adult businesses in New York City is already having an effect in one Queens shopping district. A new shop called Nexus Point, which opened on 80-30 Jamaica Ave. in Woodhaven after the July ruling, is meeting stiff opposition from community leaders.

The case, which pitted adult shop owners against the de Blasio administration, was another chapter in a legal battle that dates back to the Giuliani administration, an era when strip joints and topless bars dotted the city’s landscape.

After aggressive legislation from both the Giuliani and Bloomberg administrations, many adult businesses, in an effort to comply with city regulations, redesigned their stores to reduce the portion of their premises devoted to sexually oriented products.

“Back in the old days these places had pictures of live nude women, but have since become much more toned down,” said Erica Dubno of Fahringer & Dubno, who represented a coalition of theaters, video stores and bookstores.

Indeed, the signage for Nexus Point is an inconspicuous scaffold that makes no allusion to the adult nature of the business inside. The shop sells both non-adult bargain items such as party supplies while also offering pornographic videos and sex toys. The shop also provides private video booths for customers.

In the years preceding the July case, the city tried to close adult businesses in residential and prime commercial areas through a “sham compliance” theory, which held that even if adult businesses did adhere to city guidelines, if they still derived most of their business from adult services, they could be closed down.

Adult shops responded by claiming that such action would be unconstitutional. The court sided with the shop owners, holding that shops—even those with live entertainment—were exempt from city restrictions if 60 percent of their merchandise and display was not X-rated.

That decision carries little weight for Maria Thomason, head of the Woodhaven Business Improvement District.

“It’s a shame that the city lost the case. Children have to walk by this store. We simply don’t need this,” she said.

Members of the Woodhaven Residents Block Association say that they spoke to the owner of Nexus Point and asked for certain items to be taken down from its window display, a request with which the owner allegedly complied.

“This is a free-speech issue. But there was also a concern among these businesses about the effect they would have on the community. The establishments made a concerted effort not to offend,” Dubno explained.

Thomson remained unimpressed.

“It’s simply a very unsavory business to have on your commercial strip. I know that people don’t want them here.”

The dissenting judges’ opinion echoes concerns heard throughout the Woodhaven community, holding that as long as a store sells sexually oriented goods as a substantial part of their business, regardless of how unassuming their signage or layout is, they should be barred from operation in certain areas. The city must now decide whether to appeal by asking the Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court, to review the ruling.

Reach reporter Gabriel Rom by e-mail at grom@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4564.

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