Vancouver Shutting Down Sex Shops?

A small adult toy shop in downtown Vancouver has been denied a license to operate. The Supreme Court of B.C. has just upheld the decision by the City of Vancouver. Yipes! This sort of headline strikes fear into the hearts of all adult oriented businesses. What the heck is going on here?

When you look at the facts, from the city's side, it sounds fair. The owner of the store bought it from someone else who had been running it mainly as a mainstream video store and turned it into an adult toy store that sells videos and offers peep shows. The city said that he did not have the proper license to run an adult store. Ok fine, apparently in Vancouver, you need to have a particular license to run an adult toy store (here is yet another example of why Edmonton is cooler than you think - our city does not require that - you merely need a retail sales license and comply with the retail zoning regulations and signing requirements where you operate) so all he needs to do is get the right license.

When the owner applied for the license though, he was denied and told that his signage, his black-out windows, and the interior layout of the store did not conform to zoning regulations for that license. So he made plans to bring it up to their standards - drop the peep shows, put in tasteful window displays instead of blackouts, change the signage, and the interior layout. All of this, I'm sure, cost him considerable time and money. Should be all good then, right? Wrong. The City refused again to issue the license mainly because they had surveyed the neighborhood about the proposed license and many people were opposed.

This is where it becomes so not okay. I do agree that neighbors should know what kinds of business are going into their area and should have the opportunity to express concerns but I think they have to be legitimate concerns. If they had real complaints like not wanting a night club there because of the noise, or not wanting a Tim Horton's there because the line-ups would plug up the traffic through the whole block, that's all right. But it's not fair to shut down a business solely because the people around it don't want it there. If you follow this logic people objecting to a sex store because it makes them uncomfortable or people could object to a mosque or a Asian food store or Salvation Army shelter because that makes them uncomfortable. If there's a real reason, fine, but if the reason is that people just don't like it, that's so not okay. Now that I'm a home owner, I get letters all the time about proposed businesses and changes going on near me - a lot of these are for churches and religious organizations (I don't know what's up in my neighborhood but there are a crap load of churches there). I am opposed to organized religion and I think I have legitimate reasons to be so. But I know that having another church next door to me is not going to cause any problems for me and my daily life whatsoever. I don't really want to look at that, but it's not causing me a problem. So I don't object to it. The sex store is the same thing. He is going to change the signs and the windows to make it more suitable for the area. It won't stand out. It won't be offensive. So it's not going to affect anyone. But still people don't like it just because they don't like it. That should be their problem, not the business owner's.

The City is saying that the physical configuration of the building will make it impossible for the owner to comply with the requirements necessary to issue the license. I have to wonder what that means. If that's the issue, why do they bother to talk about the neighbor objections at all? It sounds like this is something they can hang their hat on to legitimize the decision and to stop this guy in his tracks. They have said he will never be able to comply so he needs to stop trying. He's supposed to close the store within the next 90 days.

The owner raised the objection that most of the adult stores in the city don't have the proper license either so the City has said they will now be investigating each one of those stores. I hope this doesn't open up a can of worms for all of the adult stores that have been operating successfully in peace and quiet for years. No one has been bothered up to this point but if they start having to reapply for business licenses and notifying their surrounding neighborhood, are people suddenly going to start popping up saying 'Hey, there's a sex shop around the corner? No way! I don't like that!'. For my colleagues in Vancouver, I certainly hope that doesn't happen.