Day 318

The Love Shack

November 12th, 2012

In New York, it's not uncommon to see kung fu movies, along with other forms of non-erotic entertainment, advertised on the outside of a sex shop. This seemingly odd practice is rooted in Mayor Giuliani's crusade to shut down the bulk of the city's adult establishments by pushing through a zoning law in 1995 that prohibited them from operating within 500 feet of residences, schools, places of worship, and each other.

During litigation that followed the passage of this law, the city's attorneys declared in federal court that they considered a business to be an "adult establishment" if more than 40% of its space or inventory was devoted to sexual entertainment. Once this definition had been stated on the record, many of the city's purveyors of pornography, rather than closing up shop or relocating, simply started stocking up on the sorts of things you see advertised above, reducing their overall percentage of so-called "adult materials" below the legal threshold.

The city decried this circumvention as "sham compliance" and passed additional legislation in 2001 to broaden the definition of "adult establishment". This new law has never been enforced, however; it's been tied up in the courts ever since its inception. These legal battles have pitted the city's Law Department against an indefatigable, and seemingly unlikely, opponent: a genteel East Side lawyer with the hilariously blue-blooded name of Herald Price Fahringer. Mr. Fahringer, despite his proclaimed personal distaste for the sex-entertainment industry, has been a steadfast defender of its First Amendment rights, even representing Hustler's Larry Flynt in the famous 1978 obscenity case during which Mr. Flynt was shot and paralyzed.

The city has ballyhooed its legal victories over the years, but Mr. Fahringer and his army of topless bars and adult video stores have prevailed most recently, convincing a State Supreme Court justice in August that the 2001 law is unconstitutional. The Law Department plans to appeal the decision, but, in the meantime, it will be business as usual at the city's emporia of booby mags and kung fu DVDs.

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