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A plan to move an Adam & Eve store hits resistance in Durham

Gurham, North Carolina- Adam & Eve, a retail chain that sells sexy lingerie, sex toys (“romantic enhancements” is the company’s term) and related merchandise, has operated a store on Chapel Hill Boulevard in Durham for years without incident.

But the company’s plan to move to a new spot at N.C. 54 and Fayetteville Road near The Streets at Southpoint mall has stirred up spirited opposition.

Neighborhood organizer sees store as ‘an assault upon our family values’

Ellie Mayer initiated the online petition drive protesting the opening of an Adam & Eve outlet at N.C. 54 and Fayetteville Road. A retired schoolteacher who lives in South Durham’s Woodcroft neighborhood, she moved there four years ago from Los Angeles.

How did you get involved?

It just happened. When I learned that the store was opening so close to our residential neighborhood, I was in shock. When I mentioned it to my exercise group, they were shocked. So we started a petition. And it took off.

[As of Friday afternoon, 1,287 people had signed the petition at www.petitiononline.com/savesdur/petition.html.]

So your objection is mostly with the location?

Primarily the setting is the problem. We ask in our petition that Adam & Eve “situate themselves in a commercial environment” and “not infiltrate our family communities with their value system.”

There’s a similar store called Cherry Pie in Chapel Hill. It’s set back from the road and its window displays are very discreet. What we have at Adam & Eve is not discreet. This is in your face. The display windows are very large — totally inappropriate for this neighborhood.

What has the city’s response been?

Most members of the City Council have pretty much ignored our protest. They basically answered, “We can’t do anything about it.” The planning department and council seem more concerned with protecting the rights of the store owner than those of families and neighborhoods.

Do you and your neighbors find the shop personally offensive, or are you acting more to shield children in the neighborhood?

Both. Some of the petition signers said they would not have bought a house in this neighborhood if that store had been there. People can’t believe the city is allowing this to happen.

Adam & Eve strives to show discretion and community spirit, spokeswoman says

Originally a mail-order company, Adam & Eve started a brick-and-mortar division in 1999 and now has 29 stores. The company is based in Hillsborough. Company spokeswoman Katy Zvolerin responded to questions via e-mail.

What led you to choose that particular location in South Durham?

The South Point retail area is a fast-growing location with a good deal of traffic. One thing the area was lacking was a high-end lingerie store. We’ve positioned the new store next to a number of grocery stores, nail salons and restaurants. It’s a formula we’ve found works well.

Have you run into opposition of this nature in other locations?

Our stores have run into some opposition in some more-conservative areas such as Jacksonville, Fla. Ultimately, the communities have embraced the stores.

What distinguishes Adam & Eve from “adult” businesses that can legally be subjected to more restrictions by local governments?

Our stores are well-lit, women- and couples-friendly establishments that focus on quality lingerie, romance enhancement and gifts. The nominal amount of adult-oriented products is presented discreetly in the rear of the store, and the window displays are always tasteful.

How do you address the reality that what you sell makes some people uncomfortable, or that they would at least prefer to have such merchandise be less visible?

There will always be a small group of people who do not like what Adam & Eve does, and we respect their right to voice their opinions. … [T]here are many more customers who recognize the positive contributions that our company makes to each community and support us accordingly.

Our headquarters in Hillsborough was the Chamber of Commerce’s Business of the Year in 2005-2006. We donate time and money to local charities and projects.

In addition, our local stores have been voted “The Best Place to Buy Lingerie” in recent years by readers of the Durham Herald-Sun and repeatedly included in the “Best Of” section of the Independent weekly.

We feel that the community will be pleasantly surprised when the store opens. Aside from that, our neighbors certainly have the option of not coming in.

It doesn’t fit definition of ‘adult establishment’

Patrick Baker, Durham’s city attorney, and Steve Medlin, the City/County Planning Director, tell how they concluded that the relocation was permissible.

Our offices have reviewed the proposed relocation of the Adam & Eve store due to the concerns raised by many citizens.

Based on the review, research and analysis of the city’s Unified Development Ordinance, state statutes and relevant case law, we have advised the City Council that the relocation is permissible and that the city has no legal basis to prevent it.

Adam & Eve claims to be a retail store, which is one of the 37 permitted uses in a Commercial Neighborhood District. The objectors claim Adam & Eve is an adult establishment, a use that is not permitted in such a district.

The issue therefore is whether Adam & Eve is an adult establishment.

The legal definition under city ordinance and state law is very specific: An “adult establishment” is defined to specifically include adult bookstores, adult motion picture and mini-motion picture theaters, adult live entertainment businesses or massage businesses. It appears clear that Adam & Eve’s retail operation does not fit any of these categories.

The only remaining use that could justify characterizing Adam & Eve as an adult establishment would be to determine it to be an adult bookstore — defined as one that receives a majority of its income from the sale or rental of sexually oriented publications (video and print).

While Adam & Eve does sell sexually oriented publications, the majority of its operation is related to the sale of clothing and items that are not sexually oriented publications. We do not believe Adam & Eve can reasonably be characterized as an adult bookstore.

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