MOUNT VERNON SQUARE
Neighbors Protest at Reputed Sex Shop
Tuesday, September 18, 2007
Residents of the Mount Vernon Square neighborhood picketed last night outside a video store, hoping their chanting and poster-waving would prod D.C. officials to shut a business the neighbors said has been operating illegally as a sex shop for more than a decade.
The rally near Fun Fair Video-Movie, in the 900 block of Fifth Street NW, drew more than 30 people, who held signs reading "Not Fun Not Fair" and "Prada Not Porn."
Cary Silverman, president of the Mount Vernon Square Neighborhood Association, said the store's certificate of occupancy is for a mainstream video outlet. According to neighbors and city officials, Fun Fair lacks the proper certificate of occupancy to operate as a sexually oriented video store.
The store has been wrangling with the city over its business license for more than a decade.
Fun Fair displays several rows of plastic-coated VHS movie boxes in its front aisles. But neighbors claimed that most of the store's revenue comes from pornographic videos that customers pay a fee to watch in booths in the back of the store.
Employees of Fun Fair referred all questions to Jonathan Katz, an attorney for the store's owner. Katz did not return telephone calls.
In 1997, the owners of Fun Fair applied for a business license to operate as a private video club and amusement arcade, but the city denied the request. Since then, various city agencies, including the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs and the zoning board, have taken various enforcement actions toward closing the business, but Fun Fair has remained in operation.
In 2002, the city tried to revoke Fun Fair's certificate of occupancy, but the case became tied up in the courts.
In March, the city again tried to revoke Fun Fair's business license, and since then community activists have met with officials to spur the effort on. Yesterday, community activists said, the city's attorney general's office issued an official order to close the store.
"My only question is, why in the world does it take five years?" asked Deborah Ziska, a former president of the neighborhood association.
With bright yellow wooden boards nailed to its exterior, Fun Fair stands out in the rapidly gentrifying neighborhood north of Chinatown. A luxury condominium with floor-to-ceiling windows opened across the street, and the City Vista complex, which will have residences, a gym and a grocery store, is being built.
Several residents who own condominiums across from the store said they often see drug-dealing and prostitution when they look out their window.
Diane Groomes, commander of the 1st Police District, said police made a drug-related arrest in the lobby of the store Friday night. She said she forwarded information about the drug sale to the attorney general's office and contacted the city's nuisance-property task force.
Groomes said she has seen plenty of activity near the store.
"They sit and drink their coffee and then get up their nerve to go in" to the video store, Groomes said.