South Carroll residents are upset about the opening of an adult and family video store in a shopping center on busy Liberty Road in Eldersburg, a legitimate business according to county zoning.
News of the store at Monroe Shopping Center has spread through Eldersburg, a community of about 30,000 residents. More than 100 people have complained to Nimrod Davis, chairman of the Freedom Area Citizens Council, an unofficial group that acts as a liaison with the county.
"People here don't want this, and they don't care whether paraphernalia is on view or hidden behind a wall," Davis said. "Neighbors are saying they will do whatever they can do legally to get that store out of here. When 100 people call about the same thing, it shows people are up in arms."
Movie Sales occupies 2,400 square feet in the strip mall less than a mile from schools and churches. The store, which opened Sept. 1, stocks family and adult videotapes, novelties and sex toys and will probably add lingerie to its inventory, the owner said.
Residents are considering a picket and boycott, and are arguing for stronger zoning ordinances to prohibit such businesses in residential areas.
"We can legislate with our feet," said Adrian Das, an Eldersburg resident. "This business will thrive only if someone goes in there."
Picketing will help advertise the business, said Dave Drutz, who owns the shop and five others in the metropolitan area, including one in Finksburg.
Other than an "adult videos" sign in the window, the storefront does not advertise such merchandise. An interior wall with a large red stop sign separates the family and adult sections. Children are not allowed into the store without an adult and no one younger than 18 is allowed beyond the stop sign.
"We always card, when in doubt about age," said Jeff Baker, store manager, who added sales have been evenly split between family and adult fare. Drutz chose the location for its frontage on Liberty Road, Eldersburg's main thoroughfare, and for the growing population, he said. The previous tenant was a mattress shop, which went out of business.
"We are not in the middle of a development, and we have put a first-class store together," Drutz said. "This is a legal business, and we are doing it the classiest way it can be done."
Drutz said he understood the community's concern and was willing to meet with residents. He said he has done everything possible to minimize the effect from the street.
No glossy advertisements will be put in the windows, Drutz said. The store deals only in sales, no rentals. It has about 12,000 general tapes and 2,000 adult movies on videotape and DVD.
"Adult products are our most profitable end," he said. "There is a market for adult entertainment. It is not my right to tell you what you can and cannot purchase."
In a meeting with Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge last week, several residents faulted the county for its failure to appoint a zoning administrator since George Beisser resigned in January.
"We were caught fully unaware," said Gouge. "We certainly did not want this to happen. We are trying to review other county ordinances. We can't prohibit this business, but we can make sure it is far from churches and schools. We are working on that right now."
Max Bair, acting zoning administrator, said county ordinances do not address such establishments. It would take several months to amend the zoning text, and it is uncertain whether the amendment would be retroactive.
Bridget Orth, whose 15-year-old son works at a deli in the center, said she is not bothered by the movie store. "If you don't like it, you don't have to go in," she said. "You can't see anything from the front of the store."
Other tenants include a seafood restaurant, a pizza parlor and deli, dry cleaner, barber, shoe repair and carpet store.
In an argument with Davis on Friday, Tony Rizzo, owner of Monroe Center, repeatedly cited the First Amendment.
"Do I have the right to say this can't be sold in Eldersburg?" Rizzo asked. "People should not concern themselves with what others like or do. Adults have the right to decide for themselves ... ."
If a picket is organized, County Commissioner Robin Bartlett Frazier plans to join it.
"This is not good for the community, and the community is right to do everything legal it can to stop it," said Frazier. "The community should set the standard. We don't want anybody tempted that way."