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NY Times: Bo Kenney’s Le Tache is a “Poke in the Eye” for Alexandria, Virginia

ALEXANDRIA, Va. []- — In the Old Town historic district here, tourists and shoppers stroll brick sidewalks along King Street and peer into a wide range of boutiques — rug shops, antiques dealers, a cheese shop, even a comic book store.

Visitors who make their way inside the store will find much racy merchandise. (That’s only a mannequin at the top of the stairs.)

Old Town’s latest offering, though, has been stopping visitors in their tracks since it opened in January. It is called Le Tache, a “couples boutique,” more commonly known as a sex shop, which is sandwiched between art galleries whose offerings are more common in Old Town than colorful vibrators and steamy DVDs. The boutique’s owner leased the building after a dispute between the property owner and the city.

Near a busy visitors’ center and numerous historic sites, Le Tache — which the owner intended to mean “the spot” in French but which also means “the stain” — has been a source of dismay for many, curiosity for some and glee for others.

“It’s created a lot of dialogue in town,” said Robert Lee King, 61, who owns and lives in an abutting building. “It seems from my perspective to be out of place for what this section of Old Town is all about.”

La Tasca restaurant nearby offers Spanish tapas; Le Tache has pasties for the topless. A lingerie shop sells lacey underwear; its rival has racks of lace-up corsets. A pet bakery sells dog collars and leashes; Le Tache has a selection for humans.

For the owner of the building, Michael Zarlenga, his new tenant is a satisfying tweak to city officials who rejected Mr. Zarlenga’s plan to expand his own successful hunting and fishing business, the Trophy Room, which had been in the basement of the three-story brick building that dates to around 1800.

“They got what they deserved,” Mr. Zarlenga, 41, said. “Their karma brought this business to Old Town.”

Some other Old Town property owners said that Mr. Zarlenga’s plans were flawed from the start, and that he spitefully allowed in an undesirable neighbor. Others, like Carl Gudenius, say that preservation decisions, which are made by the city’s Board of Architectural Review, are arbitrary, and that Alexandria has only itself to blame.

“There is a certain amount of comeuppance, of getting what you deserve, when you behave this way toward your own good corporate citizens,” said Mr. Gudenius, whose home-expansion plan was rejected by the board last year.

The principal planner for the city’s historic preservation section, Lee Webb, denied that the city was arbitrary but did say it was making more of an effort to explain upfront what kinds of property modifications would be allowed.

The controversy has clearly wearied some in Old Town. The president of the Historic Alexandria Foundation, Morgan Delaney, said in an e-mail message that commenting “would serve no useful purpose.”

Beth Temple, the aide to Mayor William Euille, who has called the shop “inappropriate” for Old Town, said he now had nothing more to say about it.

The store’s arrival was a coda to Mr. Zarlenga’s failed negotiations over his expansion plans. He opened the Trophy Room in 2001, then bought the building in 2006, planning to expand.

He hired architects and a lawyer who had been chairman of the Board of Architectural Review.

After working with a board staff member on plans to raise the roof of a small building attached to the back of the property, he thought he had the panel’s support. But in 2007, the board denied his permit request, and the City Council rejected his appeal.

Furious and out of money, Mr. Zarlenga closed the Trophy Room and sought a tenant that would be a poke in the eye for Alexandria. He said he courted fast-food chains to irk neighbors and City Hall.

When Bo Kenney, the owner of Le Tache, called about the vacancy, Mr. Zarlenga happily offered a 25-year lease. With no city codes barring adult businesses, Le Tache opened in January. (The city is now considering restrictions on new adult businesses in Old Town.)

Mr. Zarlenga is glad to have a rent-paying tenant, but perhaps more to the point: “I’m happy they’re there from the standpoint of the ruffled feathers that it gives to the neighbors.”

Mr. Kenney said business had been brisk. “As far as my neighbors go, everybody’s been decent to me and civil, “ he said. “What we’ve tried to do is blend into the community.”

At first glance, the brick building with blue shutters barely stands out. A discrete sign with the store’s name hangs to the left of the door; on the right, a plaque marks the building’s historic designation.

But a glance in the windows reveals buxom mannequins in bustiers, thigh-high stockings and garters. Some people walk past in a hurry. Others stop, startled, and survey the displays. Some go in.

On spring break from college in Wisconsin, Melissa Broaddrick, 19, and her boyfriend, Andy Moore, 21, who call themselves conservative Christians, said they found the shop out of place, but were not offended by it. Told of its recent history, Mr. Moore said he appreciated Mr. Zarlenga’s spirit of protest.

“I think it’s a good way to stick it to the man, or whatever,” he said, adding, “There could probably be a better way to do it.”

Mr. Kenney insists that a store encouraging sexual liberty is right at home on a street where the nation’s forefathers walked.

“I think that they still want their freedom” in Old Town, he said. “I know people say, ‘Well, George Washington slept across the street.’ Well, George and Martha had sex.”


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