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Sunday, February 19, 2006

Monroe store sets pace, Hustler operators say

By Michael D. Clark
The Cincinnati Enquirer
MONROE — The center of Larry Flynt's retail adult entertainment empire is shifting from Hollywood, Calif., toward this small Butler County city.

In less than a month since Mr. Flynt's Hustler of Hollywood “erotic boutique” opened in Monroe, store officials report that sales of sexually explicit videos, sexual aids and non-sexual Hustler apparel are surpassing projections.

They say the 7,000-square-foot store is having trouble keeping adult videos in stock as customers — including couples and families with minors — flock to Mr. Flynt's first large expansion of a planned chain of nationwide, adult retail outlets.

Cara Morgan, manager of the Hustler of Hollywood store in Monroe, says the store is frequented by couples. Phil Burress, president of Citizens for Community Values, disputes that claim.
(Dick Swaim photo)
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“We can't keep our videos on the shelves ... and we are giving our Hollywood store a run for their money,” said Cara Morgan, director of operations and development for Hustler of Hollywood.

“I knew all along this would be a phenomenal location,” said Hustler of Hollywood President Jimmy Flynt, who is Larry Flynt's brother and long-time Hustler business partner.

But Monroe city officials, who opposed the building of the Hustler store, may be preparing to use zoning laws in an attempt to shut down the new adult entertainment store just off the Interstate 75 and Ohio 63 interchange.

Monroe City Manager Donald Whitman said city officials already conducted a secret inventory survey of the store to check compliance with the city's zoning laws requiring an adult-oriented business to have no more than 40 percent of its merchandise as sexually-oriented materials.

Mr. Whitman declined to reveal the inventory study results but did say that “no action has been taken yet but no actions have been ruled out.”

Other Hustler opponents, including the anti-pornography group Citizens for Community Values (CCV), initially met the store's opening in December with prayer vigils near the store's property at 1038 Lebanon St. next to the border between Butler and Warren counties.

The protesters have since disappeared but CCV President Phil Burress said that should not be read as a sign of waning opposition.

“This will be a battle that will be brewing for a long time,” said Mr. Burress.

Mr. Burress, who said he has not entered the store, scoffed at claims of Hustler employees that couples and families are patronizing the store.

“They would like to present themselves as a family store. But it's still a dirty, sleazy adult bookstore,” said Mr. Burress.

The store's spacious and colorful interior is divided by a curved, six-foot-high wall separating Hustler apparel and lingerie from the sexually explicit videos that can only be viewed by customers 18 years and older. All patrons must show proof of age to enter the store's adult section.

Adorning the dividing wall, in giant letters, is the phrase “Relax ... it's just sex!”

Nearby, Lisa Waltman of Fairfield browses in the store's lingerie section looking for something both she and her long-time boyfriend would enjoy.

“What the people like Phil Burress and the CCV don't realize is that there are a lot of people around like us who enjoy different things,” said Ms. Waltman. “This store is nice and clean, and people should be allowed to go and shop in here if they want.”

A married couple from Northern Kentucky, looking over the large selection of adult videos, echoed praise for the store.

“Sex is the most natural thing in the world,” said the wife, who along with her husband requested anonymity. “A lot of couples explore these kinds of things and are open about it,” she said.

Sales and rentals of adult videos nationwide doubled between 1992 and 1998, racking up $4.2 billion in 1998, according to Adult Video News, the industry's trade publication.

Mr. Flynt said the Monroe store's success means it will likely be the prototype for new Hustler retail outlets in New Orleans and in the Nashville, Tenn. area, though no sites have been determined.

The Flynt's historical ties with Cincinnati and Dayton, Ohio, stretch back into the early 1970s and have drawn national attention from high-profile court battles with Hamilton County and Cincinnati city officials.

Besides the Monroe store, Mr. Flynt also operates a much smaller Hustler store on Elm Street in downtown Cincinnati. The downtown store does not sell adult videos but does offer sexually explicit magazines, marital aids and Hustler clothing.

He declined to reveal financial details about either the Elm Street or Monroe Hustler stores but said the downtown Cincinnati store remains open for political and philosophical reasons rather than profit.

“That store is not about economics. It's about principle and the fight for individual freedom,” Mr. Flynt said, in reference to the Flynt brothers' long-standing legal battles in Cincinnati.

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