A Vancouver sex store is open for business despite a city order to shut it down. The store owner lost an appeal with the Vancouver board of variance on Oct. 14.
The city refused store owner Tony Perry’s original application for a development permit on Sept. 3 because the store violates zoning by-laws.
“This is much deeper, it is a matter of freedom of speech,” Perry, 78, said. “You cannot use moral as a reason for which businesses you’re going to allow. If they’re legal, you license them. You can zone them, but the zoning has to be reasonable.”
City guidelines state that adult retail stores should not be within 305 metres of any parks, but his store is 55 metres too close to Robson Park.
The store, part of the Fantasy Factory chain, sells adult toys, adult magazines, condoms, lubricants, lingerie and costumes, and performance enhancers. It sits in a mini-mall at 701 Kingsway that also houses a laundromat, pizza place, convenience store and Vietnamese sandwich shop.
Perry owns seven Fantasy Factory sex stores in the city. He said he wouldn’t close the Kingsway location until he receives a court order.
The city received more than 40 letters from residents in the neighbourhood objecting to the store during the appeal process. But Perry refuses to obey the city order and he questions the validity of some of the complaints.
“The same people who are complaining about my store one night are coming back the next day to buy our products,” he said.
The store was initially operating with an adult entertainment licence. It permits renting out adult videos but not selling sex toys. When the city inspector discovered the store was improperly licensed, Perry applied to change his licence.
He argued that the zoning by-laws apply to neighbourhoods, not to commercial areas.
“If you can’t open on the main street then where can you open?” Perry said. “That park was there a million years ago when maybe Kingsway was a neighbourhood, but now we’re surrounded by businesses, not homes.”
Tony Hammel, deputy chief licence inspector with the City of Vancouver, said his office is currently considering further legal action.
“He’s been ordered to cease using the store as an adult retail and he hasn’t complied,” Hammel said. “Now we’re looking at possibly requesting a court injunction to have him stop the use.”
The city doesn’t have the authority to legally evict tenants unless it gets permission from the court. If a court order is issued, Perry could face jail time or significant penalties, said Hammel.
The request to proceed to court must be approved by council. Hammel wouldn’t comment on whether he thought council would approve the request or if the case would ultimately be brought to court.
Frustration among neighbours
Peter Wohlwend, coordinator of the Dicken’s Community Group, said that after the store opened he received numerous complaints from residents.
“When it was later discovered he opened it without a license, we sent out emails to the city immediately,” he said.
Residents are worried about the image the store casts on the neighbourhood, Wohlwend said. He started the group in 2000 to improve safety and eliminate crime in the area.
“Kingsway has lots of street-level prostitution and drug dealing, and this kind of store really doesn’t discourage them,” he said.
Hie Tran, a worker at a Bale bakery next door, said he hasn’t noticed any changes in the people who come by the mall. He has worked there for the past 10 years.
“If I’m a parent, I can see how it might affect my judgment,” Tran said. “But I can’t really stop them from doing business either, because as a person, you have to understand that they’re just trying to make money as well. “
Not all neighbours object to the store.
“The store doesn’t bother me because as a parent I just know I have to be vigilant, take care of my child and be with my child when I’m at this park,” said Jessamyn Swift, a UBC student, as she watched her three-year-old son play at Robson Park.
Swift said the neighbourhood is changing.
“Just because wealthy families are buying these houses doesn’t mean that this section of the community should be pushed out, and especially not because we happen to have kids,” Swift said.
The store itself is non-descript. The windows are white and the “XXX” sign only lights up at night. Perry has complied with city requests to cover up his store front and stop selling adult videos. But he plans to continue the fight.
Neighbour Alec Logan said he noticed the store is more discreet now than when it opened last fall. He questions whether a business like Perry’s belongs in the community.
“The store displaces another store that could serve the neighbourhood better, it is an awkward strain on the other stores it shares the mall with, like restaurants and food-related stores,” Logan said. “I would say that it’s not in your face, but it’s still out of sync in the small mall. It doesn’t fit in.”
City council is expected to decide Thursday whether to proceed with court action.