By Curt Yeomans
It is now OK for the City of Jonesboro to have its "Exotic Pleasures."
The novelty store called Exotic Pleasures, that is.
The Jonesboro City Council voted 4-1 Monday night to grant an occupational tax certificate, or business license, to Columbus-based Chatri Novelty, Inc., to open an Exotic Pleasures in the city, as a local branch of the company's "pleasure" empire.
City Councilmember Wallace Norrington cast the lone vote against the business license.
The granting of the license came after a prolonged battle over what type of store it was. City leaders claimed it was an adult bookstore, but store owners said it was not. Mayor Luther Maddox, and several members of the city council, said city attorney Steve Fincher advised them they did not have legal standing to deny the store a business license.
"We've been given legal advice by our attorney, and we were basically told that we did not have the right to deny them a business license," said Councilmember Joe Compton, during the council meeting.
Maddox later added: "Our city attorney advised us we had an untenable situation ... a 'no-win' situation. I could spend money in the courts fighting this, but I still couldn't win the thing."
The granting of a business license to Chatri Novelty, Inc., ends a six-month, back-and-forth argument over whether the city could deny a license to Exotic Pleasures to operate in a former auto shop, at 8220 Tara Blvd., in Jonesboro. The store was denied a business license in January, when city officials declared it to be an adult bookstore, in a location that was not zoned for such a business.
Store co-owner Jason Ferree has repeatedly argued that the store did not have enough space devoted to adult items to be considered an adult bookstore, under the city ordinance that deals with such businesses.
A city ordinance states a business must devote more than 20 percent of its floor space to adult items, but a copy of the Exotic Pleasures' floor plan showed 9.6 percent of its floor space was set aside for those items. Ferree has described Exotic Pleasures as being similar to businesses in the mall-based novelty store chain, Spencer's Gifts.
But, with the long argument carrying on into June, Ferree threatened, last week, that he was thinking of taking legal action against the city, if he was not granted a business license.
"This is why I'm here today, because of the process that the city has made me go through to get this," Ferree said. "When we filled out the initial application, we didn't leave anything off. We've been upfront with the city from the beginning. We've done everything we can to try to make this a smooth transition. We really have. We want to be good business citizens of Jonesboro."
But, one remaining issue is raising concerns for some city leaders and residents: the store's name. "I would respectfully ask this gentleman to change the name of it, because to me, Exotic Pleasures is not a good name to appear in the City of Jonesboro," said former Mayor Joy Day, during a public comment period at the meeting.
Maddox and Councilmember Pat Sebo also asked Ferree to consider changing the name to something other than Exotic Pleasures. "I do like the idea of changing the name of the place, but I know that's probably one of your big drawing cards is the name of the place," Maddox said. "But, we would appreciate a different name on it."
Ferree said he would be open to the idea of changing the store's name, but added he would not do it, if it meant having to re-apply for a business license. "If we took 'Pleasures' off, would 'Exotic,' just using the name 'Exotic,' would that be sufficient for you all?" he asked councilmembers. "I mean, I think that's going over and beyond what we should do at this point, actually."
He later added, however, "It's definitely worth considering, since a member of the community brought it up [in public comment at the meeting]."