Store with sex items controversial with residents, businesses |

Store with sex items controversial with residents, businesses

Mary Thompson

A small retail store started a long list of complaints this week at the city of South Lake Tahoe.

Romantic Adventures, located within walking distance from South Tahoe Middle School, sells a variety of adult merchandise, most of which would not gain any notice if not for the small, partitioned room off to the side.

A beaded curtain and sheet of fabric separate the store’s assorted silky lingerie, platform shoes and lacy bustiers from its adult gag gifts and erotic games.

Nearby residents are concerned that the store’s only partition – the bustling traffic of U.S. Highway 50 – isn’t enough to insulate the 1,400 students who attend school across the street from the store’s adult theme.

The store took over the small A-frame building, formerly occupied by Hi-Tech footwear, on the corner of Edgewood Circle and U.S. Highway 50.

Three Edgewood Circle residents raised complaints about the store’s location with the city council Tuesday, just two days before the shop opened its doors to the public.

“There’s a place for this type of business, but this is not the appropriate location,” South Tahoe resident Tony Caglia said. “There’s the middle school across the highway, St. Theresa church nearby, a bike path that is used by kids right out in front of the store and it’s on the only road that leads into our neighborhood and I’d say 70 percent of the residents have children.”

Caglia suggests that the business move away from any residential neighborhoods and into a commercial center.

But shop owner Rena McCarthy said she believes her current location is perfect.

“It’s ideal. It’s right in the middle of town where locals can get to it and it’s right on the highway so tourists see it when they come into town,” McCarthy said. “And it’s got parking.”

McCarthy also owns Bottoms Up!, a retail store near the state line that sells clothing, gifts, snacks, beverages and adult gag gifts. She said her customer base for the adult merchandise is mostly women.

“Women, ages 20 to 40, are the average clients,” she said. “Sometimes men will come in to buy gifts for women. We’ve never had a problem with children coming into the store.”

McCarthy said the adult merchandise, which is kept in a small room not much larger than a closet, is a minor but valid part of her new business.

“We don’t sell any pornographic books or videos,” she said. “It’s mostly gag gifts, lotions and games, and you can’t see those when you come into the store anyway. We won’t have anything in the window except for clothing.”

Aside from the tiny room full of sexually oriented products, McCarthy’s store carries a line of robes, men’s and women’s underwear and pajamas. She’s planning to add wigs, formal dresses and bathing suits to the racks.

“The rumor is that we are a sex shop – I’m a lingerie store,” McCarthy said. “There was a preformed conclusion with residents in the neighborhood before we even got open.”

Mayor Tom Davis said the city staff is carefully studying its ordinances to make sure that McCarthy’s shop isn’t violating city code.

“We’ve received numerous complaints from area residents and business owners,” he said. “While we support free enterprise and the right to do business, we are concerned about the complaints and the city will be looking into city ordinances. I believe that particular activity – the sex shop portion of the business – is not appropriate for that location because of its proximity to schools, churches, a family restaurant, a bike path and a residential area. I have no problem with the (clothing) portion of the business.”

Neither does the South Lake Tahoe City Code.

Section 18-12.2 states that any business with less than 25 percent of its commercial floor space dedicated to adult entertainment merchandise is legal as long as the business partitions the adult merchandise from its main floor space. How it is partitioned is not clearly stated. Additionally, there are no restrictions concerning the location of a business with ancillary use of adult entertainment.

These regulations are different from those for businesses with a primary purpose of providing adult entertainment, which are prohibited from operating on U.S. Highway 50 or within 1,000 feet of any public school or church in South Lake Tahoe.

Caglia said, if the city’s code isn’t strong enough to keep McCarthy’s business out of the only street that leads into his neighborhood, he’ll request an amendment to the current ordinance.

City Attorney Catherine DiCamillo said Caglia’s alternative may be an option.

“We will thoroughly review the code and determine whether or not the business is in violation of our ordinances,” she said. “If it is, we’ll notify it as soon as possible. If it’s not in violation, the city council’s alternative is to amend the city code.”

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