Adult chain Starship plans store at Thomas Crossroads

By SARAH FAY CAMPBELL Adult movie and "novelty" chain Starship plans to open a location at Thomas Crossroads. Starship was granted a building permit Friday to make alterations to the building at 3209 Highway 34 East. The building was most recently a 24-hour gym. It's located between Rite-Aid and Crossroads Mobile Home Park.
Though Starship is well-known as a purveyor of sex toys, pornographic DVDs and other "adult" items, the applicants say the Thomas Crossroads location will not qualify as a "sexually-oriented business" under Coweta's ordinances. The county's ordinances regulate the placement of sexually-oriented businesses, including "adult bookstores." But for a store to be considered a sexually-oriented business, "adult" items must constitute 25 percent or more of inventory, floor area, gross sales, or employee full-time equivalents. There are two general categories of items that count toward the 25 percent. One is pornography, including books, magazines, films, pictorial materials, etc., that "are intended to provide sexual stimulation or sexual gratification to such customers, and which are distinguished by or characterized by an emphasis on matter depicting, describing or relating to specified sexual activities, or specified anatomical areas." The other category includes sex toys, defined in the county's ordinance as "instruments, devices, or paraphernalia that are designed for stimulation of human genital organs, for sadomasochistic use or abuse, or for use in conjunction with 'specified sexual activities,' excluding condoms and other birth control and disease prevention products." Coweta's sexually-oriented business ordinance restricts sexually-oriented businesses to industrially-zoned areas, at least 1,000 feet from any homes, churches, schools, parks, daycare centers and the like. Starship currently has 19 stores in Georgia and one in Tennessee. Several are "percentage" stores, such as the one proposed for Coweta. "We've got several stores that are limited to a certain percentage of adult" merchandise, said Kelly Rogers, president and CEO of Starship Enterprises. "Every county, every city has an adult ordinance, and you have to carry a certain percentage of adult material to be considered an adult store," said Rogers, a Coweta County resident. "As long as you stay below that percentage, you're just a general retail store." The closest Starship store to Coweta is on Old National Highway in College Park. But the Thomas Crossroads store won't be anything like that one, Rogers said. "The Old National store is a full adult store," Rogers said. The Coweta store "will be a lot different." In addition to the adult merchandize, the Coweta store will carry items such as lotions and bath products, lighting items such as lava lamps, black lights and strobe lights, some general interest movies, lingerie, clothing, fresh cigars in a humidor, candles and incense, party supplies, pipes, tobacco products and "all kinds of different stuff," Rogers said. The non-adult items actually sell pretty well, he said. "We sell a lot of the lotions and creams and bath" products. The recently opened location in Jonesboro is a better example of what the Coweta store will be like, Rogers said. Though it won't qualify as a sexually-oriented business, the store won't allow anyone under 18 inside. Coweta County has an ordinance regulating sexually-oriented businesses because such businesses can't be completely forbidden, because of First Amendment issues. If a strip club wanted to locate in Coweta, for instance, it would have to meet the zoning regulations, and the license representative would have to pass background checks. Alcohol licenses are not allowed for sexually-oriented businesses either. In a letter dated Nov. 18, Coweta Assistant Attorney Nathan Lee told attorney Allen Begner, who represents Starship, the county would issue the building permit "based upon your assurances that the store will not qualify as a sexually-oriented business within the meaning of applicable ordinance." Lee also says in the letter that "based upon Coweta County's understanding of Starship Enterprises' business model, it has serious concerns that the store ... will be a sexually oriented business." Coweta County Commission Chairman Tim Higgins said the commission would like to prohibit "these types of businesses in the county, but we have been advised that we cannot legally do so. The board has put into place an ordinance which we believe places the strictest restrictions permitted by law on these types of businesses." Begner said Starship has every intention of complying with Coweta's rules. "Of course, the county is not happy about us opening, but we meet the requirements," Begner said. "They can't stop us and so I appreciate the fact they don't try, on a pretext, and make me sue them, and we get open anyway." "We understand that, when we open, we will have to not only meet the requirements, we expect to be audited," Begner added. "We are good neighbors. We intend not to push the envelope, and stay in compliance." Until the store is stocked, "it is not completely clear what column certain things that are not clearly one or the other need to go in," Begner said. "We expect to have a discussion on that. We want the input of the county folks who are involved in the decision," he said. The definitions are in the ordinance, so Begner doesn't expect there to be much confusion. If there is a disagreement, "then we'll probably put it in their column and either let it go, or try to get a declaratory judgment," he said. "I think that, over time, we won't have caused any trouble," Begner said. "We really police our premises. People don't loiter in our parking lots, and there's no viewing booths. "We expect to be a good citizen," Begner said. "We do this a lot. And I do expect to comply with the county's laws, and if we don't, we would meet the consequences."

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