Owner disputes store's ‘adult' label

City says Simply Sensual is too close to a residential area

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CEDAR RAPIDS — The Simply Sensual shop next to a Laundromat and a Mexican grocery store in a west-side strip mall doesn’t seem like your old-fashioned adult bookstore or strip club long ago relegated in Cedar Rapids to a few spots in or near industrial areas away from residences, schools, day cares, parks and churches.

Even so, shop owner Patricia Edmonds finds herself doing battle with the city’s Building Services Division, which has concluded that her mix of retail merchandise qualifies her business as an “adult entertainment establishment.” And as such, the shop is violating the city’s zoning ordinance because its sits in the wrong zoning area and is too close to a residential area, church and day care, city officials say.

“I’m just trying to run a nice, clean lingerie store,” Edmonds said on Wednesday from the shop she opened in July at 2129 Wiley Blvd. SW. “We do carry some sexually oriented items, but it’s such a small part of what we do.”

Edmonds, 47, said the city is incorrectly characterizing her business, which she said is a haven for women older than 40 who want to buy lingerie from a similarly aged woman and not from a teenager working in a high-traffic shopping mall store.

Among her merchandise is the erotic novel, “Fifty Shades of Grey,” which sits at number one on the New York Times’ paperback fiction best-seller list and fourth on the newspaper’s combined print and e-book fiction best-seller list.

“You can buy it at Walmart or Barnes and Noble, take your pick,” she said.

She said “Fifty Shades of Grey” represents “the gray area” between past and present and between the sort of mature merchandise that should be heavily regulated and the sort that is acceptable in a strip mall in today’s world.

“There is a difference between being sensual and being sexual,” Edmonds said.

In addition to lingerie, her store offers massage oils, cosmetics, jewelry, candles, costumes, purses and novelty items.

At the same time, her store does sell adult magazines, videos, sexual toys and similar fare, though she emphasized that those items sit behind a walled off area at the rear of the store.

The city’s zoning ordinance defines “adult entertainment establishments” as places “having as a substantial or significant portion of its business the offering of entertainment, stocks in trade of material, scenes or other presentations characterized by emphasis on depiction or description of specified sexual activities or specified anatomical areas.”

Raymond Nees, the city’s assistant manager of building services, said some of Edmonds’ merchandise like lingerie doesn’t change the fact that she is selling items that in his determination aren’t permitted for sale but in adult establishments that are only allowed in specific areas of the city.

Nees confessed that he sometimes get stuck in a lingerie store looking “silly” as he wife looks around.

“So I know the difference between a lingerie store and what Ms. Edmonds is offering for sale,” he said.

On Monday, Edmonds will appear in front of the city’s Board of Adjustment to appeal the city Building Services Division’s call for her to stop selling adult items.

Edmonds said she will make the case that her shop does not qualify as an “adult entertainment establishment” under the city’s definition, and in any event, that the city’s determination that a “substantial or significant” portion of her business consists of the sale of adult products is a vague measure impossible to fairly enforce.

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