Getting the Business

Tough guy Rudy Giuliani takes the credit for cleaning up Times Square, but Long Island officials beat him to the punch years ago on their own turf. Thank the Town of Islip for making it difficult for you to find porn on the Island.

In 1980, Islip became the first municipality in the state to pass a zoning ordinance restricting porn palaces to areas zoned for industrial use. The Happy Hour Bookstore, on Main Street in Bay Shore, didn't like that too much, so its owners challenged the law. Nine years later, the State Court of Appeals upheld the zoning— and Happy Hour went out of business.

That decision gave the green light to other towns to find a special place on the zoning map— preferably out beyond Nowheresville— for adult shops. Babylon, Huntington, Smithtown, Brookhaven, Hempstead, North Hempstead and Riverhead passed restrictive zoning ordinances, as did the villages of Amityville, Lindenhurst and Mineola. In most cases, porn shops cannot open within 500 feet of homes, schools and churches or do business within a half-mile of each other.

But although the restrictions are clear, those who run porn palaces say that it's becoming increasing difficult to survive, even when they comply with local laws. The store owners complain that the areas they've been forced to locate are difficult to find and that officials continually harass them.

Strip-club operator Eddie Preas Jr. says the authorities in the Town of Islip are continually hassling him into complying with this or that regulation just to keep his joint Forbidden Fruit open on Pond Road in Ronkonkoma.

Two months ago, he says, he had to spend $40,000 to comply with town regulations reclassifying the bar as a bar-restaurant. He had to double the size of his sewer system, from 2,500 gallons to 4,000 gallons, he says. He also had to build a grease trap, even though he claims he doesn't even have a kitchen.

"They think of something new for me to do every day," says Preas, who owns the club with his father, Eddie Sr. "They've been busting my balls all the way down the line."

Hitting him right where he and his customers live.

OK, but you'd figure that it would be easy to indulge your porn tastes in a town called Babylon. These, however, aren't Biblical times. This is Long Island in the 20th century, and the bluenoses have the upper hand.

After opening X-Dreams Video in a hard-to-find industrial section— at the crossroads of two dead ends in Deer Park— the Town of Babylon told owner Michael Ozegovich that he needed a special-use permit, even though he swore he'd cleared the location with a zoning officer. It's typical treatment for the Island's porn establishments.

Local politicians love to target porn as a way of deflecting attention from more pressing concerns. So, Town Supervisor John Venditto of Oyster Bay, a Republican up for re-election this year, makes a point of reminding the citizenry that he's "cleaned up" the town. He's not referring to the town's current budget deficit.

Caught in the middle of the politicians' vice grip are the storeowners themselves. The neon lights of a South Broadway video shop in Hicksville, for example, came on for the first time on a recent Monday morning, but they stayed on only until Town of Oyster Bay inspectors showed up— ten minutes later. Neighboring merchants at Quality Plaza in Hicksville say the video store was closed almost immediately after it opened when a town official slapped a notice on the window, bolted the door and ordered the employees inside to turn off the lights.

Later that week, on a Friday afternoon, the week of what was supposed to be the grand opening of Dor's Video Flixx, the door remained locked.

No one from Dor's Video Flixx will comment on the Aug. 2 shutdown. But lawyers who represent porn purveyors say local governments are playing hardball.

"We're dealing all over with this type of stuff," says Matthew Rosenblum, a Hauppauge attorney. His law partner, Eric Naiburg (made infamous by representing Amy Fisher), represented Heaven Sent Me, a gay porn shop in Hauppauge Industrial Park, in a case tried by Suffolk District Attorney James Catterson. "Generally, the more compact the community, the more resistance there is. Some guys can't take the heat and shut down."

Heaven Sent Me survived and remains open to this day. A jury acquitted the corporation that owns the store of all charges after its six members were ordered to watch two adult videos confiscated from the store. Jurors yawned, giggled and continually looked at the clock before announcing that they were "just disinterested" in the content of Bound to Please and Scenes from the Black Dance.

Still, Rosenblum says for the store owners it was no laughing matter: "They were charged criminally. Some people would consider that harassment."

Research: Lisa Chamoff

 
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