Vice Squad
Sunday, September 26, 2004
Avoiding Anti-Sex Shop Restrictions in NYC

While today's New York Times offers a story of internet-based tax evasion, tomorrow's Times contains another tale of getting around vice controls. Remember Mayor Guliani's sex-shop crackdown that is widely credited with cleaning up Times Square? Well, it hasn't been as successful in the rest of the Big Apple, apparently, especially in Greenwich Village:
The law was supposed to prevent the clustering of such businesses in most residential and commercial areas. But store operators have exploited a loophole in the law permitting businesses with at least 60 percent non-X-rated merchandise to operate outside so-called adult entertainment zones. These stores often put large racks of instructional golf videos and "Ozzie and Harriet" episodes, which stand gathering dust between racks and racks of pornographic movies.
There is a current that runs through the article that goes much against my stomach, however. Specifically, while I am all for regulating legal vices, and even support some vice-business-specific regulations (including sin taxes), the article makes much of extremely selective enforcement of various city codes; further, this selective enforcement is presented in the article in a tone that I find to be approving (though maybe I am imagining this.) Here's one sample of the selective enforcement:
An amended law that would make it more difficult for X-rated businesses to thrive is locked in court battles, and in the meantime, the city is trying to enforce the existing law. The Bloomberg administration has greatly intensified its enforcement of every imaginable regulation against these stores - health code violations are written for lack of soap in bathrooms - and the Fire Department peppers the stores with tickets for having improper lighting on exit signs. "We want to pull every lever at our disposal," [the building inspector] said.

Since Mr. Bloomberg took office, 450 store inspections have been completed, compared with 78 such inspections in 2001, said John Feinblatt, the city's criminal justice coordinator.
And while lots of folks (both neighborhood residents and city officals, including the Mayor) who oppose these sex shops make their way into the story, the customers whose purchases support all of these stores don't merit any reportage.

Speaking of avoiding vice control rules, economist Lynne Kiesling tells of how one winery avoids a ban on interstate shipping of wines directly to consumers. (Thanks to Ben Muse for the pointer.)

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