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Jonesboro facing fight over allowing 'Exotic Pleasures'

Photo by Hugh Osteen

Photo by Hugh Osteen

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

Pleasure was on the lips of several Jonesboro City Councilmembers on Monday, as they discussed whether to let a proposed store -- called Exotic Pleasures -- open its doors in the city.

Mayor Luther Maddox said the store, which was denied a business license in January, was turned down, because it would be an adult bookstore, and its location at 8220 Tara Blvd., is not zoned for such an establishment.

Jason Ferree, however, the co-owner of the proposed shop, said it would actually be a "general retail establishment" that would be safe for children under 18 to enter.

Ferree also said that while his store would sell some adult-themed items, he saw it as unfair that the city denied him a business license, while allowing gas stations, and an adult videostore, that sell adult movies, to operate in Jonesboro.

He told councilmembers that he is ready to take the city to court, if he is not given a business license at the next city council meeting, on June 13.

"We know the ordinance, and we know the law, and we feel 100 percent confident that this will get approved at some point in time, even if it's in the court of law," he said. "It's going to be approved, so we felt confident in going ahead, and taking the building, and moving forward with our pursuit."

City leaders did not say whether they would deal with the Exotic Pleasures issue at the council's next business meeting, but the threat of legal action was enough for officials to say it will be referred to City Attorney Steve Fincher for review.

"I think this will all boil down to the legality of it, and I think to check with our city attorney, and have him compare what this gentleman has put in his statement, and see which is which," said Councilman Clarence Mann.

The key issue in the Exotic Pleasures debate is whether the store qualifies as an adult bookstore, under city law. City code section 10-32 states that an adult bookstore is "any commercial establishment in which more than 20 percent of floor space is used for the display or offer for sale of any book or publication, film or other medium or device which depicts sexually explicit nudity or sexual conduct."

A copy of the floor plans for the shop, as presented to councilmembers by Ferree, shows that 650 square feet, out of a total of 6,750 square feet of retail space, will be devoted to adult-themed items. That equates to adult items taking up 9.6 percent of store's total retail floor space.

Ferree said the store, if allowed to open, would sell "general merchandise," such as "clothing, apparel, body jewelry, tobacco, tobacco accessories, beach towels" and "a lot of odds and ends." He described the store as being along the lines of Spencer's Gifts, a mall-based novelty shop chain that sells a few adult-themed items along with more innocent novelty gifts, such as strobe lights and lava lamps.

Despite the store's emphasis on mainly non-sexual merchandise, Ferree said, "Exotic Pleasures" was chosen as the store's name because "we have all kinds of different novelty items that you won't find at the Walmart."

He also said anyone who wanted to go into the section of the store that housed adult novelty items would have to be 18 or older, and would have to show an ID card to a store employee. Ferree said the company has signed a three-year lease on the building, and has been paying rent on the property for several months.

"We've been ready to open the store since the end of January," he said. "We were supposed to be open already, so the store's sitting vacant, ready to be stocked and ready to hire six, to 12 new employees, also."

Chatri Novelty, Inc., the store's ownership company, also owns two similar stores in Columbus, one of which is also called Exotic Pleasures, and the other named Pleasureworld, according to Ferree.

Councilmember Pat Sebo asked Ferree why Chatri Novelty chose Jonesboro as a location to expand the Exotic Pleasures chain. "It's just a growing area, with a high traffic count," he answered. "We looked at, basically, the area and what goes on, and the building and location, and it all seemed to fit what we were looking for."

During the meeting, Councilmember Roger Grider said he felt the store should be given a business license, as a retail business, because it falls under the city's 20-percent floor space threshold. "What I'd like done, and what I'd like to get a legal opinion on is why, exactly, are we denying you, and why are we classifying you as an adult bookstore, when you are, what I consider, strictly a retail business," Grider told Ferree during the meeting.