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Closing after 18 Years, Adult Store Owner Says He’s Being Singled Out

North Carolina – from www.gastongazette.com – The owner of an adult business that will be forced to close at the end of the month believes the city of Gastonia is singling him out.

Rick Williams recently lost a 16-year legal battle with the city that will lead to him shutting the doors of 321 News and Video at 1410 N. Chester St.

The business opened in 1992 and has sold adult videos, DVDs, magazines and other novelties, in addition to operating an adult mini-motion picture theater. But a 1994 Gastonia crackdown on where and how such adult businesses operate ended with a federal judge ordering Williams’ business to shut down by June 30.

Williams says two other similar adult businesses in the city are being overlooked by city zoning inspectors, despite not abiding by code regulations. But Gastonia officials don’t believe that’s the case, and if it is, it won’t be for long.

“For somebody to say we’re singling out one of these businesses, that doesn’t seem to be the case,” said city zoning administrator Drew Pearson. “If that is true, it’s probably something we need to look into.”

In 1994, Gastonia followed Charlotte’s lead in adopting a zoning ordinance that limited how close adult-oriented businesses could be from public parks, churches, schools and residential neighborhoods. Those in violation were given eight years to close or relocate to an adequate site, and the teeth behind the ordinance prevented the city from having to ‘grandfather in’ any established businesses.

“Charlotte was trying to clean things up,” said Gastonia city attorney Ash Smith. “We were concerned we would get an influx of businesses that had been run out of Charlotte and would reopen here.”

U.S. 321 News and Video was deemed too close to Sims Legion Park and nearby homes. Of the handful of local businesses affected, it put up the biggest legal fight. But the recent ruling of a Fourth Circuit federal judge led Williams to sign a consent order to close this month.

Gastonia’s contention all along has been that 321 News was also inappropriately operating as an adult bookstore and an adult mini-motion picture theater. Two such sexually oriented uses under one roof are illegal under city code.

On his store website, www.321newsandvideo.com, Williams has posted a rant against the city for not holding other local businesses up to that same code. He explained this week that he is referring to two operations — Carolina Video Exchange at 2308 N. Chester St., and 74 Video at 3510 W. Franklin Blvd.

“If the DA don’t go after them, I’m going to get my lawyer to file a lawsuit against the city, because they’re not treating everybody fairly,” said Williams. “If they have a rule for one store, they should have a rule for all stores.”

Keith Brimbury owns both Carolina Video Exchange and 74 Video. He could not be reached for comment this week regarding the allegations of code violations.

Smith, the city attorney, said neither of Brimbury’s businesses are too close to a church, school, park or neighborhood, according to the ordinance.

Several years ago, when the city passed its law prohibiting two sexually oriented uses under one roof, 74 Video was in violation, Pearson said.

“At that time, they were operating what was technically called a mini-motion picture theater and a video or bookstore,” he said. “They had to come down to one use, so they removed the booths.”

Carolina Video Exchange was not in violation, and according to city records, continues to operate only video booths, Pearson said.

Williams said such booths, or arcades, typically involve the customer paying to enter the booth and watch an adult video.

The city inspects such businesses when they obtain a license to open, to ensure they’re in compliance. Further inspections follow only when laws change, or when someone issues a complaint about the business, Pearson said.

Code enforcement complaints about Gastonia’s adult bookstores and video theaters have come from time to time over the years, but none have been made recently, Pearson said. Businesses found in violation must come into compliance within a specified time, or they risk facing fines and legal action.

Pearson said the city will likely confirm whether or not Williams’ allegations are true.

“I think it’s our responsibility to look into it and see if there’s truly a violation or not,” he said.

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