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Pastor Lady leads charge against sex shop

SALISBURY, Maryland — A local minister and several residents are peacefully demonstrating against a city sex shop they feel is hampering a neighborhood’s plan to return to its previous glory.

Pastor Annette Wilson of the Cathedral of Love Ministries is spearheading a protest against the SexStyle adult boutique on Isabella Street, which is an area in the midst of revitalization efforts.

“This store is a hindrance to what we’re trying to do,” she said. “It’s a disgrace to the community.”

This is not the first time there has been an uproar regarding SexStyle and is owners. After the March 2007 opening of the Ocean City location of the adult boutique, moratoriums passed throughout Worcester County and — eventually the entire Lower Shore — on issuing business licenses to sexually oriented businesses and stores.

During the protests, Wilson, members of the church’s congregation as well as other residents would march from the church to the store reading scriptures, singing hymns and saying prayers.

Moshe Bitton, co-owner of the store, has seen the protests outside the store and said as long as the demonstrations are on the street and not on the property, he has no problem with people voicing their opinions.

“It’s a free country –they are allowed to protest as long as they don’t cross the line,” he said.

Assistant City Administrator Lore´ Chambers said they have heard concerns regarding the shop and how it impacts what has been more than a decade of revivification efforts to a neighborhood that has had a reputation for crime and drugs.

“To the residents, it’s very concerning that during the school year, many youth have to pass by the building going to and from after-school programs,” she said. “We realize the concerns of the many of the neighborhood residents, but the business’ use of the facility is permitted.”

In April, Salisbury approved an ordinance limiting the businesses to 8 percent of the city. This ordinance followed a 100-day moratorium on adult-oriented stores adopted by the city in January.

Wilson said although the store is within its realm to operate, it is morally degrading to the community.

“Legally they might not be wrong, but spiritually it does not belong here or belong around at all because it is perversion,” she said.

The pastor said she’d be willing to have dialogue with the owners, but there will be no room to compromise. She said the only good outcome would be for SexStyle to close.

Bitton said he has a lot of respect for religious beliefs and concerns that Wilson and the community have and has no problem engaging dialogue. He added he has no problem shuttering the store, but would only do so if there was compensation for how much he and partner Ofir Bouzaglo have invested into the venture.

“If they want us to close the store, pay us $100,000,” he said. “I’d close it right now and never open up another one here.”

The City’s Ministerial Forum, of which Wilson is a member, has also heard her concerns about the location of the store.

CSAFE lead coordinator Michelle Parks said for an area that is undertaking an ongoing revitalization, many in the forum do not want anything that would be conducive to the ultimate goal.

“A lot of the concerns focus on the elements and subculture the store is likely to attract,” she said. The forum wants positive resources present instead of negative ones.

Bitton said that he understands Wilson’s and many of the concerns about the store, but the choice of whether to patronize SexStyle is a decision out of the hands of him or the protesters.

“If someone wants to go to church, then they’ll go to church,” he said. “If someone wants to go to the store, they’ll go regardless of what anyone says.”

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