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Henderson ponders whether The Love Store is legitimate or banned under city code

Proprietors want to open The Love Store in Henderson as a “romance boutique” for loving couples.

But if kindling that kind of chemistry involves the sale of a “significant portion” of adult items requiring batteries, inflation or an X rating, city officials aren’t interested.

In fact, they argue it’s illegal.

The business licensing dispute before the City Council on Tuesday hinges on whether The Love Store is a legitimate retail location or a sex shop barred under city code. The Love Store plans to open its third Las Vegas Valley location in an 8,500-square-foot space on North Stephanie Street near Warm Springs Road. They just want to know what they can carry beyond lingerie, footwear, clothing, bedroom linens, candles and lotions, according to store attorney Clyde DeWitt. The company concedes it will not carry adult DVDs at the Henderson location.

Henderson spokesman Bud Cranor said “the city is entirely comfortable with our ordinance, and we don’t feel there needs to be any clarification or review.

“How the company sees itself and how the community sees them are apparently quite different, based on the number of complaints we’ve received over the past week, and I think we are well prepared to hear their appeal and make a decision based on our ordinance,” Cranor said.

How many complaints the city received was not available by press time.

DeWitt, a First Amendment attorney specializing in representing adult-oriented businesses, said what Henderson is classifying as a “sexually oriented business” the owners of The Love Store claim is really a “romance/love boutique.”

“This place is called The Love Store not The Sex Store, and there’s a big, big difference,” said DeWitt, claiming there’s a profound difference between an adult superstore and this business. “People get all skittish when they think about sex. Stop thinking about sex and think about love. It’s not the kind of business that deserves that label.”

Certainly, one man’s trash might be another’s treasure. But beyond the argument over taste in a city with a decidedly more conservative reputation than Las Vegas is a section of municipal code that DeWitt argues is vague.

DeWitt said the city’s municipal code regulating sexually oriented businesses defines them as carrying as “a significant portion of its stock in trade” sexually oriented products. Owner Edward Wheeler said he has been trying to work with the city’s business licensing department for five years to receive clarification on what exactly a “significant portion” is but receives different answers.

“Any law has to be reasonably understandable to the average person and not be so vague as to invite discriminatory enforcement,” DeWitt said. “When laws regulate expressive activity, like movies, then they really have to be specific.”

City Attorney Josh Reid said in a statement the city’s ordinance gives clear direction in recommending the license denial.

“Courts have upheld the phrase ‘a significant portion’ by interpreting it using its plain meaning, which is a ‘considerable or measurably large amount,’ ” Reid’s statement read. “Courts upholding ordinances such as these have also concluded that when the amount of adult inventory in question was meaningful to the business itself, it was a ‘significant portion.’ Thus, the city interprets the phrase ‘a significant portion of its stock and trade’ to mean a considerable or measurably large amount that is meaningful to the business itself.”

DeWitt said he hopes the City Council will look at Las Vegas’ code that classifies an adult bookstore as “an establishment which will or does derive 35 percent or more of its gross revenue from sales of books, magazines, films, videotapes, discs and other periodicals which are distinguished or characterized by their emphasis on matter depicting, describing or relating to specified sexual activities or specified anatomical areas.”

Wheeler said the 12,000-square-foot The Love Store on South Rainbow Boulevard in Las Vegas carries 20,000 items, and fewer than 35 percent meet the Las Vegas definition of adult materials. DeWitt said the outside of the store looks like a regular lingerie store such as Victoria’s Secret, nothing goes on inside — no movie booths or dancing women — and it is tastefully decorated.

Under current Henderson code, DeWitt said some stores in Henderson and the Galleria Mall such as Spencer’s Gifts — with an inventory that includes sex toys, novelty blow-up dolls and sexy costumes on three sections of walls — could qualify as sexually oriented businesses. Unlike those stores, people under 18 are not allowed in The Love Store.

Cranor said The Love Store’s attempt to compare itself to other businesses already in Henderson is a “big stretch at best.”

“The types and quantities of products The Love Store offers are vastly different than a Spencer’s or Walmart,” Cranor said. “Were there complaints or concerns about those stores offering the types of products they reference as a ‘significant portion of their stock or trade,’ then we would take the appropriate business licensing enforcement action to rectify that according to our ordinance.”

Contact reporter Arnold M. Knightly at aknightly@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3882. Follow him on Twitter @KnightlyGrind.

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