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VIP owner has long history of area entrepreneurship

SOUTHINGTON, Connecticut- from www.myrecordjournal.com – – The private life of VIP adult store owner Dominick DeMartino may not be an open book, but the 36-year old entrepreneur, whose birthday was Saturday, shared some of his personal history during a recent interview inside the Queen Street building where he plans to open his fifth adult-oriented store in the face of opposition from town residents.

DeMartino started VIP while still in his 20s, opening his first store in Hartford in 1997. The initials stand for Very Intimate Pleasures.

“I’m changing the stores because clientele drives business. They’re looking for more non-adult merchandise,” DeMartino said. “There has been a steady decrease in adult merchandise.

“At end of day, I’m a businessman. I certainly do it for profit,” DeMartino said. “It’s not because I’m enamored with the business or like the product.”

DeMartino said he attended the raucous Planning and Zoning Commission meeting Aug. 18 at which angry residents denounced the zoning permit VIP received from the town. The business was not required to apply for a special permit under current zoning regulations and was not subject to a public hearing before approval. DeMartino remained anonymous at the meeting and didn’t address the commission, he said, because the mood of the standing-room-only crowd was against his business model.

“At public hearings, people get together and talk and their opinion is to say things for shock value,” he said.

He said his other stores don’t bring down property values. “I’ve been in business as long as a decade. If someone claims molestation or exposure, it doesn’t happen at VIPs,” DeMartino said.

Claims of higher criminal activity around adult establishments, DeMartino said, are based on studies of strip bars that serve alcohol and offer live entertainment. “We don’t have either one,” he said.

The PZC’s announcement on Aug. 18 that it would seek to reverse the zoning approval surprised DeMartino. He said he met with planning and zoning staff at the end of July and he understood they had received legal advice on the zoning approval.

“If they try to pull the permit back, we would file (legal papers) simultaneously in state and federal court. My hopes are this can be resolved,” DeMartino said.

An Aug. 18 letter from state Attorney General Richard Blumenthal pledged to help the town in its efforts to regulate adult-oriented businesses. Town Attorney Mark Sciota said Thursday that he’s spoken with Blumenthal, but no decision has been made on whether to pursue legal action.

“I agreed to stipulation so I wouldn’t have to fight it,” DeMartino said. He agreed to limit adult-oriented products to no more than 5 percent of the store’s inventory. In general, the town’s zoning regulations define adult-oriented as X-rated DVDs and magazines.

“These are retail stores with a twist of adult,” DeMartino said. He said that, once he got the green light for his business, he had gutted the old furniture store at a cost of $175,000.

DeMartino is in a prolonged legal fight with the town of Berlin over his store on the Berlin Turnpike. Blumenthal is involved in that lawsuit, which is now before a federal appeals court. Berlin sued to keep the store from opening, but a U.S. district court ruled in favor of VIP. A decision by an appeals court is expected by October, according to DeMartino.

Berlin Mayor Adam Salina said that, despite a three-year long court case against the proposed store, he can separate DeMartino as a person from the businesses he runs.

“I think the average citizen would not envision him as owning a VIP,” he said. “If the situation were different, we could be sitting down having a beer and talking together. Dominick has acted professionally through this entire process.”

DeMartino got his start in business through his parents’ company in Wallingford, Chef’s Equipment Emporium Co., which he now owns. The six-acre location at 920 S. Colony Road was once the site of Barker’s Discount Department Store. DeMartino’s Flea Market opened there in 1983 and the site later became the restaurant equipment store.

Joe Vertucci, of Vertucci Motors on South Colony Road, remembers the flea market. “It had a sign with a little flea on it,” he said.

Vertucci said his father, Mario, used to have coffee every morning with DeMartino’s father, the late William DeMartino. The two businesses are next to each other.

“They were early risers, they drank coffee out in front,” said Joe Vertucci, adding that William DeMartino was “a great guy” and “top shelf.”

DeMartino Fixture Co. Inc. was incorporated in 1978, according to state records. The company lists Dominick DeMartino as president, Michele DeMartino, his sister, as secretary and Pasquale Salvatore as vice president.

DeMartino is also listed as a principal in Docker Drive Development LLC and DeMartino Colony Realty LLC.

He said he owns numerous properties throughout Connecticut, including commercial warehouses and offices. Two properties he owns in Wallingford, on Reskin Drive and on Main Street in Yalesville, are listed in town records as single-family residences.

DeMartino said he volunteers with nonprofit organizations. “I contribute to a ton of organizations, fire, police, baseball and football,” he said. He has three children, two of whom are heavily into sports, DeMartino said. “I gave a $10,000 contribution for a team,” he added.

DeMartino grew up in Durham, where he now lives. He said he went from kindergarten through high school in Durham, but didn’t attend college. Instead, he said, he went into business for himself.

About five years ago, DeMartino says he changed the focus of Chef’s Emporium from a commercial, wholesale business to a retail store open to the public.

In 1995, he and Michele DeMartino ran a nightclub at 45 Jude Lane in Southington called Locomotion. The property was owned at the time by Thomas Badera of Farmington. It is now the site of the Cadillac Ranch, owned by TCB LLC of Plainville.

DeMartino declined to have his photo taken for this story and chose to provide little information about his private life or his friendships.

“With an adult industry, I think they encounter not the stereotype they expect with me,” he said. DeMartino is about 5 feet, 10 inches tall with dark hair and a neatly trimmed goatee.

To advertise the planned opening of the Southington store, DeMartino rented a billboard on Interstate 84 east that contains the VIP store logo and lists the locations in Hartford, Manchester and Orange. “I will promote Southington with this billboard,” he said, once the store opens.

The VIP sign on the Queen Street building, he said, is expected to go up in October and the store to open in December.

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