Gays join fray in video store flap

The Washington Blade

Friday, February 6, 1998
Metro News

Gays join fray in video store flap

The Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance this week denounced a legal opinion issued by the D.C. zoning office that calls for shutting down video stores operating in the city if more than 15 percent of their "inventory on display" is for sexually oriented tapes or merchandise. The legal opinion, issued Jan. 29 by acting zoning administrator Gladys Hicks, threatens to close 20 video stores, including four in the Dupont Circle area and two on Capitol Hill, that have a large Gay male clientele, according to GLAA President Rick Rosendall.

The controversy began last November when residents of the city’s Tenleytown section in Northwest asked the city to prevent MVC Latenight, a video store located at 4908 Wisconsin Ave., NW, from opening. Civic activists said the store was planning to open as a full-fledged adult video business, with 100 percent of its merchandize being sexually oriented. The civic activists, led by Ward 3 Democratic activist Phil Mendelson, argued that such a store would ruin the character of the neighborhood. They also noted that city zoning regulations prohibit sexually oriented businesses in residential areas. John Kenny, owner of MVC Latenight, did not return a call by Blade deadline.

The complaints by the Tenleytown activists prompted Hicks of the zoning office to issue her "15 percent" rule, which affects video stores in most parts of the city.

James Townsend, owner of Capitol Video Sales, which operates video stores on Capitol Hill and Dupont Circle that rent adult and non-adult tapes, said the 15 percent restriction will put him out of business. Townsend said adult rentals and sales make up between 29 percent and 65 percent of the total sales in his four video stores in the District. He said that as much as 60 percent of his adult videos are rented or purchased by Gay male customers. According to Townsend, the adult tapes subsidize his non-adult tapes and that a 15 percent restriction on inventory displayed for adult tapes will prevent him and other independent D.C. video stores from competing with large chain video stores such as Blockbuster. Townsend said three of his stores have been open for 17 years, 12, years, and 11 years respectively and no one has complained that they detract from the surrounding neighborhoods.

"This decision will mean people will have to go to Virginia to rent adult tapes and chains like Blockbuster will become a monopoly in the District," Townsend said. "It will force all the independent stores out of business. The customer looking for a Disney tape will pay higher prices."

Rosendall of GLAA called the zoning opinion an "outrageous" breach of the First Amendment rights of citizens who wish to buy adult tapes. He said GLAA will join efforts by the video stores to take legal action to reverse Hicks’s zoning opinion.

Meanwhile, city inspectors have already counted the inventories of all 25 video stores operating in the city and have identified 20 of them with inventories of adult tapes that exceed the 15 percent restriction.

-- Lou Chibbaro Jr.

Copyright © 1998 The Washington Blade.

pageok