citybeat (2007-45)

Barely Legal

City Beat

For now, itâ’s business as usual for our local adult entertainment industry

by Kevin Crowe

The Adult Video Superstore on Lovell Road stocks G-, PG-, and R-rated movies. Itâ’s not uncommon to see posters promoting recent Hollywood blockbusters. But to gain access to the back room of the Superstore, where the XXX-rated movies are kept, a valid I.D. is required. Itâ’s a spacious and well-lit room, a veritable playground for the adult libido.

Back in 2005, in response to numerous complaints from nearby churches, the word â“Adultâ” was covered on the signs outside the building, but at night, when the signs are lit, the word glows though the paper cover. Itâ’s bright, and totally legible.

Itâ’s been well over two years since two stringent ordinances were passed by both Knox County (March 28, 2005) and the city (May 24). But just as at the Video Superstore, Knoxvilleâ’s adult establishments have seen few changes to the ways they do business.

Morris Kizer, who is now Senior Law Director for the city of Knoxville, says that the ordinances were designed to mandate the licensing, location and conduct of adult business. To put it another way, there would be no more nudity in strip clubs. Lap dances would be strictly forbidden. And no alcohol would be allowed on site. No exceptions. Anyone employed by a designated â“adult businessâ” would be required to obtain a license, and both adult bookstores and cabarets would be forced to close before midnight. And they would be forced to shut down each Sunday and every national holiday. At least thatâ’s what was supposed to happen.

Ever since the ordinances were passed unanimously by both County Commission and City Council, they havenâ’t been enforced because three ongoing lawsuits have been bouncing around federal court for the past two years. A judge still needs to decide on the constitutionality of these ordinances.

â“I voted for the ordinances,â” recalls City Councilwoman Marilyn Roddy. â“To me, it just made sense.â”

At the time, County Law Director Mike Moyers, who is now a Chancery Court Judge with the city of Knoxville, said that the county was filing a motion â“to dismiss most, if not all, of the claims and arguments made by the other side.â”

Roddy adds: â“There were subsequent amendments that helped define what an adult business was, such as if you sold items that were not adult items as well as adult items.â” The definitions were broadened to include businesses like the Adult Video Superstore, which had placed two vintage motorcycles for sale with a price tag of $245,000. This was a clever way to circumvent previous city codes that defined an adult store by the value of its inventory.

After receiving several complaints in 2005, Moyers contacted Chattanooga attorney Scott Bergthold, who is notable simply because he is one of the few lawyers in the nation to focus exclusively on drafting and defending municipal adult business regulations.

His website, adultbusinesslaw.com, states that the â“firmâ’s goal is to leverage its expertise on behalf of municipal clients through constitutionally sound ordinances and vigorous defense of local regulations.â”

Bergthold cited several supposedly deleterious effects of adult entertainment when he spoke to County Commission and City Council. A few highlights included decreased property values, increased crime and prostitution rates, and a higher percentage of sexually transmitted diseases.

Towne and Country Bookstore and the Adult Video Superstore were quick to act when they filed a suit jointly against the county for violation of their First Amendment rights. Frierson Graves of the Law Firm of Baker Donelson in Memphis, which has represented the Towne and Country Bookstore since 2005, says that â“[The lawsuit has] been sitting there for some time in federal court.... The county agreed not to enforce the ordinance until a judge has ruled.â”

Trial dates have yet to be set.

And those who remain staunch opponents of pornography in all its forms continue to make this debate increasingly local and personal. White Ribbons Against Pornography, Girls Against Porn, and Morality in Media, to name a few, have banded together against the operations of the Adult Video Superstore, which consistently seems to be the highest-profile adult business in the county.

â“Iâ’m grateful for cities like Knoxville that have taken these steps, and I think that they will be successful,â” says Dave Fowler, who spent 12 years on the State Senate before retiring last year. He now heads the Family Action Council of Tennessee in Nashville. Fowler is in favor of any legislation that further regulates and diminishes the impact of adult businesses.

â“Pornography objectifies human beings. It communicates that we are simply objects. It diminishes understanding of intimacy, and reduces sex to a mere biological function. Pornography is very addicting. It becomes a substitute for the real thing.â”

He pauses, then adds, as if it were an afterthought: â“It strips our children of their innocence.â”

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