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South Portland store says sex toys will stay, despite city's attempt at restrictions

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South Portland store says sex toys will stay, despite city's attempt at restrictions

SOUTH PORTLAND — An attorney for Spencer Gifts on Wednesday said his client will not have to change its practices, despite tighter restrictions being proposed by the city on adult-themed businesses.

The City Council on Tuesday night reviewed changes to its adult
amusement store ordinance after receiving one complaint last year from a shopper offended by the inventory at the Spencer's store in the Maine Mall. Spencer offers a selection of adult-oriented undergarments, toys, games and gag gifts. 

Code Enforcement Officer Patricia Doucette said the initiative began when she received a complaint from a father concerned about some of the "very graphic" adult items on display. Doucette said the child was old enough to read and began asking her dad questions as they browsed the store.

The proposed changes would require retailers to package sex toys more discreetly, shield the products from minors or place conspicuous signs to warn customers of adult displays. On Wednesday, two 3-by-5 inch cards were placed amid a brightly colored array of vibrators, massage devices and lubricants at Spencer. Each card read: "Be Advised Adult Oriented Product."

The signs did not stop several groups of teenagers from looking through the merchandise, displayed on racks near beer bongs and Playboy Bunny apparel.

The proposed changes would require stores with more than
10 percent of their floor space (not in excess of 500 square feet), or
those that receive more than 10 percent of their total sales from sex toys to be
licensed as adult amusement stores. That license, in turn, restricts customers to adults 18 and older.

There are currently no licensed adult amusement stores in South
Portland and Spencer does not want to be the
first. 

"We have never been classified as an adult business," store attorney Kevin Mahoney said, noting that only 1 percent of the store revenues come from massager sales. "I don't think the (new ordinance) will impact the store at all." 

City Attorney Sally Dagget said the proposal also narrows the
definition of "sexual devices," which as currently written includes
types of birth control. Because of that, Police Department Sgt. Steven Webster said, most drug stores would not
be in compliance with the ordinance. The changes would exempt pharmacies,
drug stores, medical clinics or other health-care stores from the
regulations. 

"We tried to find a fair and reasonable compromise," Webster said.  

South Portland is not the first community to take action on Spencer's store displays. Other municipalities have adopted similar ordinances and a group in West Des Moines, Iowa, has launched a Web site, BoycottSpencerGifts.org, encouraging people to refrain from shopping at the store. 

According to Spencer's Web site, the 60-year-old company has more than 600 mall locations in the U.S. and Canada. The company has stores in Bangor and Auburn, in addition to South Portland. Mahoney said complaints against the store are "pretty rare." 

Councilor Linda Boudreau wondered Tuesday night whether the new ordinance would restrict the sale of sex toys to minors, but Dagget said that it would not. "It's not so much the purchase of these items," Dagget said. "It's protecting the customer."

Councilor Tom Coward said he had other concerns with the adult ordinance, but did not elaborate. "This is something that may bear looking at in the future," he said. 

A vote on the ordinance is expected in mid-June, according to City Manager Jim Gailey.

Second-hand dealers

In other business, the City Council is also considering instituting reporting requirements for items purchased and sold by resellers of second-hand merchandise. 

Webster said similar reporting requirements in Portland have helped police recover stolen goods and arrest burglars. 

The new regulations would institute a 10-day waiting period before second-hand dealers could resell products. During that time, dealers would have to itemize their inventories and report the items to police, who would compare the lists to items reported stolen.

Webster said the ordinance is needed particularly for stores that resell video games and players. He said it took police weeks of sorting through store receipts to verify the confession of a burglar, who admitted to stealing video games and reselling them at a South Portland store. 

The owners of Maine Gold & Silver were the only dealer to speak at the workshop. They convinced the council to distinguish between collectible items and those sold strictly for their material value. 

Owner John Colby said he typically buys gold bullion and tens of thousands of gold and silver coins, which he must quickly turn around on a rapidly changing market. Gold bullion and bulk coins would be nearly impossible to report in depth to the police, he said.   

The council directed Dagget and Webster to rework the language of the ordinance, which will likely be taken up at another workshop before heading for a council vote.

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or rbillings@theforecaster.net

 

These toys aren't for children

These toys aren't for children
Photo:
Teenagers browse the sex toy section of Spencer Gifts at the Maine Mall in South Portland. (Billings photo)
More stories like this: South Portland City Council