Porn News

People’s Choice Adult Isn’t

Missoula City, Montana- This spring, a church and a pornography retailer began remodeling storefronts on South Avenue West across from each other – and unbeknownst to each other.

“When the church sign went up, I went, ‘Uh oh,’ ” said Karl Miller, longtime manager of People’s Choice Adult Emporium.

“When we started the remodel, it (the People’s Choice location) was a bridal shop,” said Russ Smith, pastor of The Church, a vibrant 200-member institution founded with a dozen members just three years ago. He’s not happy about his new neighbor. The church has classes for kids ranging from preschool to young adulthood.

“Nothing healthy comes from this type of business,” Smith said Tuesday.

Complicating the social collision is Jefferson School, which is across the street from People’s Choice and next door to the church. Jefferson is no longer in use as an elementary school, but is active with preschool and art classes as well as family programs, said Missoula County Public Schools Superintendent Jim Clark.

Also, a private preschool is kitty-corner across South from People’s Choice and almost directly across the street from another pornography retailer, called Adult Avenue. A Christian youth group has offices in a building next door to People’s Choice, too.

The area is zoned commercial, which does not bar adult-oriented stores.

Some business owners and residents in the neighborhood seemed blasé about the pornography on the commercial landscape. One store manager said he had no complaints.

About People’s Choice and Adult Avenue, homeowner Thelma A. Rice said: “I don’t care. If you don’t want to go in, don’t go in.”

Rice, who has lived on South Avenue for 30 years, does have some wishes for the neighborhood. She wants to be able to turn left onto South from Catlin Street. That turn has been blocked by the recent reconfiguration of South. She also would like a home improvement store, for instance, to occupy the nearby and vacant former Tidyman’s grocery store.

But Clark at MCPS has some concerns. The school district made a formal objection to the new store across from Jefferson School during the public comment period at Monday night’s Missoula City Council meeting.

“My concern is the proximity to the school. I realize there is no ordinance against this, and probably nothing from a public comment standpoint would make a difference. It doesn’t seem to be in the best interests of the community,” Clark said Tuesday.

“I’m not speaking against a person’s right to do that,” Clark added.

For Miller at People’s Choice, these complaints seem to come in cycles. Anti-porn crusaders have picketed the store from time to time over the past 21 years. The store operated for years on Brooks Street in a building with another retailer, called Fantasy for Adults Only.

In its former location, People’s Choice had nude dancers and video booths, as well as videos and other items. Porn retailing has changed a lot in the past decade, largely as a result of the Internet.

Last year, Miller began searching for new locations to expand and remake the business. He’s aware of the gut reaction some people have to adult-oriented stores, and Missoula is a tough place to find vacant commercial space.

“Of all the locations available, this was the least objectionable,” Miller said.

Sure, the headquarters of a Christian group was next door, but the elementary school across the street seemed devoid of kids and nothing else nearby seemed likely to cause friction, he said.

And the new location is a new incarnation, Miller said. Instead of objectionable video booths and dancers, the store will now sell erotica, novelty items and other merchandise.

“It’s an emporium, the entire spectrum,” Miller said. “We’re trying to run an upscale store.”

Miller shook his head.

“If I had known it would be there, I wouldn’t have pushed for it,” Miller said, referring to The Church.

But Miller didn’t know. Nor did Smith.

It’s not clear what will happen next. People’s Choice opened Tuesday and will remain open for business.

Smith talked Tuesday about maybe starting a petition against the store. He wasn’t sure. He’s not happy with the lack of city ordinances governing such matters. The idea that an adult-oriented store could move across the street from a church and a public school seems ridiculous and dangerous, he said.

“It’s negligence on the city’s part,” Smith said. “The city’s position on this makes no sense.”

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