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Florida County Turns Adult

WILDWOOD, FLA- – It’s no “red light district,” but typically conservative Sumter County became a little more risque last week, when the county’s first adult video and novelty store opened for business.

The bright red lettering on the sign out front of the X Mart Adult Supercenter offers movies, novelties and magazines 24 hours a day. Early Friday afternoon, eight cars, most of them not bearing Sumter plates, populated the parking lot of the white building with blue trim.

The shop, along the south side of State Road 44 east of Interstate 75, was until recently a boarded, former Shoney’s restaurant. Inside, a clerk asked for identification and proof of age, and customers walked among the rows of magazines, DVDs and sex toys arranged on the still half-empty inventory floor.

Leaving the store alongside his wife, a 32-year-old tractor trailer driver from Ocala expected the spot would do good business because of the close proximity to truck stops at the I-75 exit.

“I just hope it doesn’t cause trouble,” said the man, who asked not to be identified. “It’s not inside of a town where kids can easily get to it so that’s good . . . We’re husband and wife, so I don’t see anything wrong with us going in a place like that. I am a little uneasy when I do go in because people might say, ‘There’s that man going into that porn shop.’ But I don’t think going into an adult bookstore makes you a bad person.”

Some county officials said that when they pushed for more commercial development, this was not what they had in mind.

“I wish there was something we could do to stop it, but I don’t know what we could do,” County Commission Chairman Benny Strickland said.

Planning and Development Director Robbie Rogers said the county code does have regulations for live entertainment – prohibiting nudity in an establishment selling alcohol. But there are no prohibitions to keep retail sales of adult materials out of certain areas.

Rogers said when the business owner – a North Miami Beach company called 75 Retail Enterprises Inc. – came in for a license, there was no requirement to identify the nature of the business.

“The zoning out there is commercial, and when they came in for an occupational license it was already a retail establishment there,” she said. “There was nothing in the county code to prevent it.”

County Attorney Randall Thornton said unless the inventory meets the somewhat subjective legal standard of obscenity, the shop is protected under the First Amendment.

“The First Amendment does not protect what we like – it protects free speech,” Thornton said. “Sumter County is not going to take the lead in prohibiting this. We don’t have the money to fight it and risk getting sued. Counties and cities have lost millions of dollars over things like this.

“It’s one of those things many people don’t like,” he said. “I might not like it anymore than anyone else, but it’s always inevitable these things creep in, especially when you have a lot of closed businesses.”

A few miles east of the X Mart on State Road 44 is the Potter’s House nondenominational church. The church’s Rev. Dennis Howard said he spent five years as a chaplain for the trucking industry and similar shops often were located near truck stops.

“The sad thing is they located there strictly to appeal to truck drivers,” Howard said. “We don’t want it, but unless we’ve got money, we can’t fight it.”

Sumter County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Lt. Bobby Caruthers said Sheriff Bill Farmer plans to work with State Attorney’s Office to see if there is any legal procedure for shutting down the new business.

“It’s the sheriff’s belief that this type of business is not an acceptable community standard. But it remains to be seen if there is anything that can be done about it. It’s the first of its kind in Sumter County, and we hope the community won’t support it,” Caruthers said.

Gary Edinger, the Gainesville attorney representing 75 Retail Enterprises Inc., offered a blunt response to the sheriff’s concerns.

“What I’d like to say to the sheriff is – if he doesn’t like it, don’t go in there,” Edinger said. “He’s a grown-up. He can decide what to read and view.”

Edinger said the business easily met county code regulations because there are no regulations for adult retail businesses. He said the local response to the shop was expected.

“When one moves into a place it always stirs things up,” he said. “There’s always an interest in it. Usually conservative religious leaders don’t like it. Pretty soon, nobody’s going to notice it’s even there.”


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