Frustrated Building Owner Allows Sex Shop to Open in Old Town Alexandria

Le Tache, at 210 King St. in Old Town Alexandria, has "caused a lot of buzz" with its racy displays and adult inventory.
Le Tache, at 210 King St. in Old Town Alexandria, has "caused a lot of buzz" with its racy displays and adult inventory. (By Tracy A. Woodward -- The Washington Post)
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By Allison Klein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 1, 2009

To many in Old Town Alexandria, the sex shop that opened recently on King Street is nothing short of scandalous, a historical desecration just blocks from the boyhood home of Robert E. Lee.

But to Michael Zarlenga, it's justice.

Zarlenga spent $350,000 on plans to expand his hunting and fishing store, the Trophy Room. He worked with city officials for almost two years and thought he had their support -- until the architectural review board told him he couldn't alter the historic property.

Furious and out of money, Zarlenga rented the space to its newest occupant, Le Tache.

"I can't say I didn't know it would ruffle feathers," said Zarlenga, 41. "Actually, I was hoping for a fast-food chain because I thought that would be more annoying to the city."

King Street's upscale restaurants and shops are the quintessence of commercial Old Town, near Gadsby's Tavern, where George and Martha Washington, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams overnighted. A short stroll away is the boyhood home of Lee, the Confederate general.

"I believe it's an inappropriate business to be located in our old and historic district," Alexandria Mayor William D. Euille (D) said of Le Tache. "I get e-mails and calls every day from people who want us to do something to make the business leave."

The store opened in January to both horrified and curious passersby at 210 King St., next to an art gallery and two doors from a boutique that sells children's clothing. Le Tache owner Bo Kenney said sales are booming, even in this economy.

"People like our products. They want that escape, and that's what we're trying to do -- give them a little pleasure in their day," said Kenney, who owns nine similar shops in Northern Virginia. "We're doing a community service."

In the windows of Le Tache, which means the spot, scantily dressed, voluptuous mannequins beckon. Peekaboo lingerie, adult movies and sex toys are displayed throughout the three-story building, which has the original hardwood floors and beams dating to the early 1800s.

The city cannot act because the store is complying with the law. "There's nothing I can do to encourage its demise," the mayor said.

But he added that city staff is drawing up proposed changes to zoning laws in hopes that future adult entertainment stores can be regulated. Le Tache would be grandfathered in.

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