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Does adult entertainment merchandise belong downtown?

By: Carol Feineman, Editor
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The News Messenger’s editorial staff is heatedly discussing the appropriateness of a store that sells sex toys, sex movies and sex magazines in downtown Lincoln. If we’re raising our voices, other residents are too. The discussion’s catalyst is the Tobacco & Gift Shop, a business that opened in June at the Brand Feeds building. Councilman Gabe Hydrick asked at the July 12 City Council meeting that city staff “look at the city’s zoning ordinance” (Lincoln Municipal Code 18.34) regarding the sale of “sexual entertainment and adult toys.” “I have a passion for downtown and I want to see it thrive and be a historical corridor, the glue that holds Lincoln together,” Hydrick said July 12. “I think part of that is we need to encourage and have appropriate businesses in town that are particularly family friendly.” After talking July 12, City Council said the Planning Commission should look at the issue. Tobacco & Gift Shop is easy to spot. Its’ windows have cigarette signs and notations that visitors must be 18. These messages greet residents and visitors on G Street. G Street will be renamed Lincoln Boulevard next summer when Caltrans gives the city Highway 65 from about First Street to Sterling Parkway. “Part of the (Lincoln Boulevard ) plan is to make downtown an economic stimulus, to encourage local and regional businesses coming in,” said Mark Miller, the city’s public services director, in May. “Timing is good because we’re seeing interest in Beermann’s (brewery), the old Rainbow Market, there’s some choice vacant land.” But is a store selling adult entertainment good for downtown? Tobacco & Gift Shop owner Manjeet Klair said Tuesday that he sells novelties. “They have a store near by a school on Joiner that sells the same things,” Klair said. “My adult stuff is not out in the open. I’m a cigar and smoke shop.” Some coworkers say any new business today is a plus. I prefer the store was at a shopping center instead of downtown. A storefront promoting tobacco, which the U.S Surgeon General links to heart attacks, chronic lung diseases and cancer, is not my idea of a “must-visit” shop. Downtown stores should be the most unique stores in the area, giving residents and visitors a compelling reason to spend their spare time here instead of at neighboring cities. An antiques store, a store selling locally-created art, a bakery, candy store and nightclub are examples of downtown stores attracting other businesses, and ultimately, families to spend hours and their money there. Our office discussion has also focused on whether landlords can withhold renting their property to a business-owner. Lincoln attorney Gerald D. Langle said landlord rights are a difficult area. “Landlords have to have a valid reason not to rent,” he said. “If they didn’t, bias and prejudice would rear its ugly heads. It would be discrimination by race, color, creed or religion.” With that said, Langle noted that landlords can limit who to rent to by predetermining what business classifications will be accepted and strictly holding to that plan. A property owner could decide to rent only to food establishments, clothing stores and art galleries, for example. It’s not the owner’s fault that Tobacco & Gift Shop is the catalyst of this new debate. Klair met with city planners when he applied for his Lincoln businesss license. Klair said he told city planners he would sell “tobacco, gifts and novelties.” And that’s what he’s doing, albeit perhaps selling not what some residents might consider desirable gifts and novelties. “The gatekeeper should have been the city,” Langle said. “The city has to issue permits. The city has the ability to act as a gatekeeper, to approve or disapprove the type of business.” The News Messenger asked Assistant City Manager/Chief Financial Officer Anna Jatczak when Klair met with city planners and if they knew he would sell adult DVDS and sex toys. “Manjeet met with City Planning in order to obtain his business license,” Jatczak told The News Messenger. My concern is why the city doesn’t have a plan in place on what types of stores the downtown wants. Last year’s city-funded $30,000 Gruen Gruen + Associates study was “to identify strategic marketing, planning and policy-related actions that build upon and enhance the downtown’s strengths, given the anticipated completion of the Highway 65 bypass.” “Encourage additional restaurants and cafes offering opportunities for outdoor eating and drinking ...,” Aaron Gruen told City Council on July 27, 2010. Lincoln Municipal Code Article II’s (Sex Oriented Businesses) 18.34 written in 1989 needs to be updated. The ordinance’s purpose talks about the need to regulate “these businesses … to insure that these adverse effects will not contribute to the blighting or downgrading of the surrounding neighborhoods.” It also says that sex-oriented entertainment businesses have adverse effect when “located in the vicinity of facilities frequented by minors …” Many residents will call the Tobacco & Gift Shop a wrongly-placed store while other residents will welcome the store. The tobacco shop topic “has been agendized for the Aug. 17 Planning Commission meeting, according to Jatczak. The meeting is at 6:30 p.m. at the McBean Park Pavilion. “I can’t say the code section is badly written but it appears to have some vagueness and uncertainty,” Langle said. This is a perfect time for residents to get involved with helping decide what businesses should be allowed in Lincoln’s Municipal Code. Community members should express their comments. This is their chance to help decide Lincoln’s economic future.