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Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Swap Shop owner feels effects of adult store backlash

A long-time Lincoln City business owner and her employees are reeling from the adverse effects of an on-going controversy pertaining to an adult store in the city's north end.

Swap Shop owner Caleen Mills told the News-Times Wednesday about the effects of a public firestorm over the recent establishment of the Imagine That! adult "superstore" now located in the lower level of the building housing thee Swap Shop at 2159 NW Hwy 101.

Some folks assume that Mills, who only leases the upper level from building owners Curt Curtis and Myron Ace, actually owns it, and as such allowed the adult store operators to move in under a lease agreement with her. Others believe she established the adult store herself, adding to the portfolio of businesses she already owns and operates in Lincoln City. Even loyal customers who are aware that Mills is not directly involved with the adult store have told her they will no longer do business at the Swap Shop due to its unintended connection to Imagine That!

"Although I am not happy about my new neighbor, I have no control over it," Mills said. "It is very upsetting to be accused of being linked to or likened to a 'porn shop,' and my employees are upset with the harassment they receive every day by people who don't understand this."

Characterizing herself as "an innocent bystander who happens to be a neighbor," Mills called the situation "very hurtful" and focused on what she thought were comments made by Pastor Steve Waterman of St. Peter the Fisherman Lutheran Church, referring to the site as a "pawn and porn shop."

On behalf of nearby business and homeowners, Waterman had filed an appeal of the planning department's decision to grant a sign permit to the adult store owners. After two lengthy public hearings that drew standing-room-only audiences to city council chambers - most of them opposed not only to the sign, but the business itself - the city's planning commissioners unanimously denied the appeal at the end of their Jan. 17 regular session.

While the actual focus of the hearings was a freestanding illuminated sign proposed for placement in a prominent position next to Highway 101 to serve as a beacon for Imagine That!, opponents provided petitions, letters, e-mails, and testimony expressing disdain for the business itself.

Context, content, and the carnal nature of the business figured prominently in their objections, which have, for some, segued into vilification of Mills, her store, and her employees under what she considers presumption of "guilt by association." She laid most of the blame on Waterman's doorstep.

In a Thursday morning telephone interview, Waterman pointed to "a lot of misinformation on both sides of this issue." He denied making the "pawn and porn shop" comment, indicating he "never personally said anything about the Swap Shop," but others in the heat of the moment may have.

Waterman said he has urged everyone to "not get emotionally involved," to avoid mudslinging, and to maintain perspective, focusing on technical requirements for the sign when dealing with the planning department, and taking "the larger issue of pornography" to the city council level.

Opponents say they will pursue the matter.

Mills hopes they will treat her business and employees fairly in the process. She has operated the Swap Shop and other businesses in Lincoln City for almost 11 years, surviving in an area where businesses come and go almost as regularly as tourists.

Mills pointed to her record of community support.

A member of the Taft High Booster Club, she works closely with the schools, providing donations for a variety of school-related projects. She sponsors community events, including youth softball teams and three cars and drivers for the annual Soap Box Derby, and donates gift certificates, merchandise, or money to "every cause that comes into my store." Among them are the Lincoln County animal shelter, March of Dimes, D.A.R.E. program, My Sisters' Place, the Shriner's hospital, chamber of commerce, and the annual Christmas baskets for needy families. In addition, Swap Shop personnel choose five families every Christmas, brightening their holiday with donations of food and money.

The Swap Shop is a 30-day buy-back shop, where customers can buy, sell, or trade items such as jewelry, tools, sound equipment, and sporting goods. "I will not buy or display anything I consider distasteful," said Mills.

As the owner of a family-oriented operation, she said she has never bought or sold any adult videos, and will not allow children under age 18 to sell or purchase knives, BB guns, paintball equipment, blowguns, darts, mature video games, explicit music CDs, or "any of my merchandise that could harm them."

"This has always been a family store," she said. "My reputation is very important to me, and I feel I do have the respect of people who know me. I have always tried to treat people with respect and fairness."

Mills asks everyone to reflect that respect and sense of fairness in their dealings with the Swap Shop in the controversy surrounding the adult store.


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