NYC’s long war on store­front porn reaches new tip­ping point

The Washington Times Daily - - NATION - BY VERENA DOBNIK

NEW YORK | A dwin­dling num­ber of peep shows, strip clubs and adult DVD stores have sur­vived New York City’s two-decade le­gal war on smut, and now some of the sur­vivors are wor­ried a re­cent court de­ci­sion could put them un­der for good.

In June New York’s Court of Ap­peals re­in­stated rules dat­ing to 2001 bar­ring any es­tab­lish­ment with “live per­for­mances char­ac­ter­ized by an em­pha­sis on cer­tain spec­i­fied anatom­i­cal ar­eas or spec­i­fied sex­ual ac­tiv­i­ties” as well as sex­u­ally ex­plicit videos from all but care­fully se­lected city zones.

It isn’t the first time a court has sided with the city, only to have the reg­u­la­tions tweaked or over­turned by an­other court later.

But a lawyer who rep­re­sents sev­eral X-rated shops said in an un­suc­cess­ful pe­ti­tion to the U.S. Supreme Court last month that if the city went ahead with long-de­layed en­force­ment, it could put her clients out of busi­ness.

“New York has the tra­di­tion of be­ing the freest and most tol­er­ant city in the coun­try, if not the world,” the lawyer, Erica Dubno, said. “And, un­for­tu­nately, free­dom of ex­pres­sion is be­ing re­stricted, and small busi­nesses are in jeop­ardy.”

Sev­eral dozen of the adult es­tab­lish­ments are still hing­ing their hopes on free­dom-of-speech le­gal chal­lenges, she said.

For now, there’s no ur­gency to clear out. The city is stay­ing en­force­ment of the court de­ci­sion pend­ing a res­o­lu­tion of the le­gal loose ends.

In a state­ment, the New York City Law Depart­ment said it be­lieved the city’s ap­proach to reg­u­lat­ing the busi­nesses was “rea­son­able and law­ful to pro­tect our qual­ity of life” and was in­tended to stem “the wide­spread cir­cum­ven­tion of zon­ing reg­u­la­tions.”

New York’s well-known ef­forts to clean up its once-boom­ing pornog­ra­phy in­dus­try be­gan in the mid-1990s, with reg­u­la­tions bar­ring adult busi­nesses from op­er­at­ing near churches or schools and in most com­mer­cial and res­i­den­tial neigh­bor­hoods. The rules shut­tered many of more than 170 such es­tab­lish­ments around the city, with then-Mayor Rudy Gi­u­liani help­ing rout them out.

Times Square, where porn par­lors and strip clubs thrived into the 1990s amid Broad­way the­aters, now bears lit­tle re­sem­blance to its old self.

But a few adult es­tab­lish­ments re­mained, some be­cause they found ways to work around a rule defin­ing a busi­ness as adult if it de­voted 40 per­cent or more of its floor space to the sex busi­ness.

Some strip clubs di­vided them­selves in two, with part of the build­ing de­voted to host­ing pri­vate events. One opened a sushi restau­rant on one of its floors. Adult DVD and book­stores stocked up on ti­tles that had noth­ing to do with sex, and which of­ten gath­ered dust. Others did less to di­ver­sify, of­fer­ing coat checks, pool ta­bles or con­doms in their “nonadult” sec­tions.

The city ar­gued that many of these tweaks were a sham.

In 2001 the City Coun­cil al­tered zon­ing reg­u­la­tions to re­duce the sig­nif­i­cance of the 60/40 test. Those changes, and others, were the sub­ject of the court rul­ing in June.

Ms. Dubno said she has asked the state ap­peals court to re­con­sider its June de­ci­sion.


New York City’s two-decade war on store­front pornog­ra­phy reached a head as the state’s high­est court is­sued a rul­ing that would force the sur­viv­ing busi­nesses out.

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