Capital Video Plays Hardball, Proposes Bondage Display for Store, Attorney Disses Community Opposition Ahead of December 14 Public Hearing

A month ago, Capital Video was talking up its “excellent relationship with its host communities”. General counsel Lesley Rich suggested that their store would be “designed in a ‘mainstream’ manner… Capital intends on opening an ‘upscale’ store in Northampton, and would be very receptive to discussions with the community on the look, feel and the approach that the store presents to the community… The company is not blind to the fact that sexuality and sensuality are touchy subjects, and it has an obligation to present itself in a mature and non-offensive manner… We would be hopeful to be having a dialogue with the community to work on a plan that will improve the area, and provide a comfortable environment to all.” [emphasis added]

In October, Mr. Rich wrote, “The company does not display sexual explicit signage, nor are there any depictions of sexual conduct that are visible from the stores. Capital Video recently re-opened its store in Peabody, MA with a new, fresh look, and has been upgrading its stores to provide a very comfortable atmosphere that is pleasing to adult men, women and couples, and to be pleasing aesthically [sic] to the community. The business to be built in Northampton will be of the same caliber as Peabody, and should offer a very pleasant atmosphere, presented in a tasteful and appropriate manner.”
[emphasis added]

Fortunately, Mayor Higgins and most of our city councilors chose not to trust Mr. Rich’s assurances. On November 2 the city council passed several new adult-use ordinances that, among other things, regulate the adult content of signage (PDF):


New 7.2(19)

A sign may not include text, graphics or pictures defined as obscene in MGL Chpt.272 §31 if taken as a whole it
A. appeals to the prurient interest of the average person applying the
contemporary standards of the county where the offense was committed;
B. depicts or describes sexual conduct in a patently offensive way; and
C. lacks serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value.
Nor may signs depict or describe sexual conduct or sexual excitement as defined in MGL Chpt 272, §31.

Add new subsection 9 to 11.6 (site plan approval criteria)
11.6(9)
A. No signs, text, graphics, pictures, publications, videotapes, CDs, DVDs, movies, covers, merchandise or other objects, implements, items or advertising, depicting, describing sexual conduct or sexual excitement as defined in MGL Chpt.272, §31 shall be displayed in the windows or on any building or be visible to the public from the street, pedestrian sidewalks, walkways, or bikepaths or from other areas outside such establishments.

Here are photos of Capital Video’s suggested storefront and signage, just submitted to Northampton’s Planning Board. Apparently this is what Capital Video believes is tasteful, upscale, respectful of community comfort, and does not depict sexual conduct or sexual excitement:

As for respect for community opinion, Capital Video attorney Michael Pill put his community relations skills on display for the Sunday Republican. Anticipating Capital Video’s planning board hearing on December 14, he said, “I hope that citizens, especially opponents, do not waste everyone’s time by pontificating about a bunch of stuff that’s completely irrelevant.”


We encourage all concerned citizens to attend Capital Video’s hearing before the Northampton Planning Board on December 14, 7:00pm at 212 Main Street.
Areas of concern may include signage, general appearance, parking, traffic, hours, noise, lighting, policing of the store grounds, and the large undefined or vaguely defined areas in Capital Video’s newest store plans (PDF).

24 thoughts on “Capital Video Plays Hardball, Proposes Bondage Display for Store, Attorney Disses Community Opposition Ahead of December 14 Public Hearing

  1. I agree with you that the floor plan is completely worthless. I also agree with you that Pill’s comment to the Republican about citizens who pontificate about irrelevant stuff is probably directed at you two. And that’s not very nice.

    I don’t really share your outrage over the signage and display, though. The display seems comparable to what Ooh La La does right down town. The difference appears to be that Ooh La La’s stuff is lacey, and the Amazing stuff is leathery. It’s kind of hard to tell, though, because you posted the photos sideways.

    I have a question about the zoning ordinance. It says that “Adult businesses with over 1,000 square feet of adult material on display” are restricted with respect to where they can be located in relation to schools, etc. To what does that 1,000 feet refer? The floor area occupied by the displays? The total surface area of the displays? I thought I read somewhere on here that the aisles between the displays don’t count, but now I can’t find it. Can you please clarify?

  2. I’m glad we agree about the vagueness of the floor plan and Dr. Pill’s antagonistic approach. We post some photos sideways to permit them to be larger. It’s a limitation of our blog format.

    Capital Video’s storefront appears to be in clear violation of Northampton’s new ordinance regarding adult signage. It is unfortunate that because they refuse to respect the law and exercise good judgment, they may trigger close scrutiny of other storefronts in Northampton to ensure consistent enforcement. As citizens in Greenwich Village realized, Capital Video appears to be trying to use Northampton’s liberal values against us.

    As with many laws regarding businesses, one bad corporate citizen can require the government to impose regulations on all businesses. The law is not always the most delicate tool, but aggressive actors like Capital Video leave the people no choice. Their storefront is clearly inappropriate for the neighborhood and threatens the commerce, pedestrian traffic, and property values in the area.

    The 1,000 square-foot-limit refers to displays with adult material plus the adjacent aisles. Here is the complete ordinance.

  3. Thanks for the quick reply. If the Amazing display is illegal, why isn’t Ooh La La’s display illegal? Ooh La La is right across the street from a church.

    Thanks for directing me to the complete ordinance. I already knew about it, though. I quoted it in my earlier message. What I wanted to know was, to what does the “1,000 feet” refer? The floor space, or the total surface area? This makes a huge difference because a display has way more surface area than it takes up in floor space. So, which is it?

  4. My understanding is it refers to the floor space under the display (and the adjacent aisles). You can always contact the Planning Department yourself about it at http://www.northamptonma.gov/opd/

    I can’t recall what Ooh La La’s display looks like, but it is possible that it is not in compliance with Northampton’s new adult signage ordinance. That’s a matter for the Building Inspector to decide.

    The bottom line is, because Capital Video doesn’t use freedom responsibly, all of us might have to give up some freedom to reduce Capital’s harm to the community. It stinks. I don’t like it. But that’s the reality we’re faced with.

  5. Thanks for another quick reply. I appreciate it.

    My philosophy is, this is a free country. When someone is irresponsible and misuses the freedom, we have to live with the irresponsibility, not with less freedom. I oppose the use of fear of harm to justify limitations on liberty. I oppose this President’s use of our fear of a terrorist attack to use the Patriot Act to limit our freedoms. Perhaps you’re in favor of the Patriot Act.

  6. Ok,I wasn’t going to reply to this at all but I feel I had to now.Why do you call it hardball?At first,Capitol Video couldn’t have any window space.Then that was changed as to have window space to “keep and eye on things.” Now,with this mild display in the windows,that’s still not good enough.What the hell people?Have you seen some of the displays in town at certain lingerie shops? You may not find that to be the same thing,but I’m sure some do.Like me.As I recall,there was a store on lower Pleasant for many years with bondage displays in the windows.That never,ever was an issue.And what of the sign that Capitol Video has proposed?Do those words offend you?If so,why?There is nothing questionable about the proposed signage nor the window display.Mannequins dressed in leather is offensive?What about the mannequins dressed in skimpy lingerie that are common downtown.Please people,grow up and stop trying to be the voice of everyone.I’m sure that all of the other businesses in town that you find questionable will not agree with you about the window display.If it comes down to the point of that particular window display not being accepted,then all of the others will have to be taken down as well.That won’t make too many business owners very happy.Just let it be already and stop trying to provent Capitol Video from opening.

  7. How is the proposed window display going to harm the community? Will it harm the community more than Oh, My’s?

    Why do we have to give up our freedoms because their proposed display makes you uncomfortable?

  8. As for the store front and signage, I’m afraid Cap Video may not see any point in trying to improve upon their other store fronts when it appears they would never be accepted by NPN et al. no matter what they did or do, so why invest in making the effort? Your alienating attitude toward Cap Video made it abundantly clear that Cap Video would not be accepted under any circumstances. … or would NPN care to suggest specific changes that would make the store front and the store acceptable to them without alteration of the content of the videos and etc. Cap Video were to sell inside the store? Could you ever accept them and let them be, as you do others who sell sexually explicit materials?

    As for the inside of the store, Cap Video said they would comply with the zoning ordinance and the plan indicates that they will by condensing all of the adult material together into one compressed section. This is exactly what Wayne Friedman said the ordinance was intended to do, namely, cause merchants to restrict and condense all of their adult content into one section of a larger store.

    As for parking, I really don’t see how anyone at this point can say there is any reason to believe it will be more of a problem for a Cap Video store than the A to Z children’s store just down the street. The A to Z store is probably just as large or larger than the Cap Video store will be and probably has even less parking space available. How could it be fair to allow the one but not the other? And does the Calvin, where all the customers come and go at the same time, have substantially more parking? And is the signage of the auto body shops, hardware and etc., stores in the surrounding neighborhood more artful than the signage Cap Video seemingly intends to use?

    As for noise, lighting, etc., first, while I share these concerns, I do not know if the City can legally consider these factors. Second, if not, amelioration of the potential secondary effects by examining such measures should have been the focus of the City’s efforts over this past many months, rather than attempting to zone the store out of town based upon the content of the wares sold inside.

    This is what I urged the City to do, but to no avail, no thanks to you NPN. So, after the courts have ruled on all this, if we end up stuck with an ugly Cap Video store at that location, the City probably has no one to blame more than you.

    Yours/AC

  9. I’m not prepared to discuss the Patriot Act, so we’ll have to return to porn.

    This is not and has never been a free country, in the sense that there have always been laws restricting our freedoms. Many, if not most of these laws exist because some people won’t restrain themselves. The issue is not whether we should have anarchy or totalitarianism. Neither appeals to us. The issue is where to find the right balance between freedom and law. The balance constantly shifts as conditions change and clever people exploit holes in existing frameworks.

  10. Lesley Rich from Capital Video sounded soothing and conciliatory last month. This month, the tone appears to have changed. Capital Video appears to have gone out of its way to find one of its most controversial window displays to present to the city. Their stores in Springfield, Wethersfield, Meriden and Kittery are more discreet. Seems like hardball to me.

    The words on Capital Video’s sign may not offend me, but it’s not particularly tasteful or upscale. You could say I’m disappointed that Capital Video can’t do better for Northampton, after their grand promises.

    Paco, how about some sympathy for the homeowners who have to face this thing? Capital Video is pushing their wares on them whether the homeowner likes porn or not. So much for freedom of choice.

  11. Is it your view that the muffler store next to 135 King is “tasteful” and “upscale”? How about the King St. Liquor Store? Is that “upscale”?

    And, anyway, is there a law against “Downscale” on King St? What are you talking about?

  12. My personal impression is that Oh My’s exterior presentation is far more restrained and respectful to the community than what Capital Video is proposing.

    By putting material that many people find offensive on the exterior of their store, Capital Video is aggressively imposing their speech on the public. Earlier, many people defended the porn shop by saying that if you don’t like it, don’t shop there. Now Capital Video has blown that argument out of the water.

    What Capital Video is proposing to do is unfair to the homeowners and shopkeepers around 135 King Street. This is exactly the kind of display that lends itself to secondary effects, reducing property values, scaring away pedestrians and shoppers. It’s flat-out selfish, and Capital Video has no good reason to do this. Their stores in places like Springfield and Wethersfield seem to be doing just fine with a more discreet presentation.

    When people abuse their freedom, they run the risk of having that freedom be curtailed. Your complaints would be more properly directed towards Capital Video than us. They are the ones who are provoking the people to take a close look at how unbridled freedom can harm the community.

  13. While Capital Video may not have a legal obligation to have a tasteful appearance, they did promise it. They have now gone back on that promise in a big way, reinforcing our opinion that they are not to be trusted.

    If the people could trust adult enterprises to locate in reasonable places, not endanger public health, and respect community opinion, there wouldn’t be such a need for adult-use zoning, would there?

    It’s true that we will always object to films that expose the performers to disease and other harms. We are also critical of companies that profit from portraying nonconsensual sex, and make a habit of selling films about infidelity, abusive practices and unsafe sex, when this material lacks meaningful political, artistic, scientific or cultural value.

    We might not be able to achieve all our desires in a short period, so we strive to secure as much benefit for Northampton as we can at each point.

    For months we’ve been hearing a lot from you about the merits of First Amendment-safe urban planning that will meet the needs of the community. Have you come up with any specific recommendations or examples?

  14. Capital Video may have no legal obligation to present an upscale appearance, but they did promise it earlier in attempt to soften community opposition and head off the adult-use zoning regulations that were approved on November 2. It now appears that this promise was not sincere. Any new statements or promises Capital Video makes should be considered with this in mind.

  15. But when you were “aggressively imposing…speech on the public” with your protests at the same site, that was fair to homeowners in the area?

    And please explain exactly how this display will lead to secondary effects but the display at Girlie Girl won’t?

  16. Our public protests were for a limited time and scope. If we were protesting night and day for years, then area homeowners and shopkeepers might indeed have cause to complain. Capital Video’s plans call for a multi-year presence at 135 King Street.

    The secondary effects of a particular adult business likely result from a confluence of factors. These might include its exterior and interior appearance, its advertising, the nature of the materials sold there, the attitude of its owners and managers, and its clientele. The latest proposals from Capital Video fit into a pattern that gives us concern. I have no information that Girlie Girl’s track record is as disturbing as Capital Video’s, or that they specialize in selling violent, abusive porn, or that its owner gave a capo in the Gambino family $1.7 million in cash.

  17. Examples and recommendations? I’ve made a number of suggestions and you know it, NPN. So why do you raise the question but to infer that I have not? These suggestions were made in posts I made to the talkbacknorthampton blog site. See, e.g., http://talkbacknorthampton.blogspot.com/2006/10/talkbacknorthampton-presents-real.html, and http://talkbacknorthampton.blogspot.com/2006/10/real-evil.html.

    First, you maintain the intellectually dishonest position of claiming you support free speech while being entirely intolerant of the private communication of speech you find offensive; second, you made unfounded accusations that Andrew Shelffo had been secretly compensated by Cap Video to switch his position; and now, third, you accuse me of never making any alternative suggestions to the zoning ordinance? How deceptively disrespectfully low will you, NPN, go?

    Further, you are well aware that I, unlike you, came into this debate late in the game and still had to start up a business and make a living while trying to press the first amendment issues. In contrast, you and the City had staff and outside counsel to do the work on the zoning measure (rather than working on alternative measures) and all the while be financially supported by it!

    Reasonable places? Yes, as far as I am concerned every neighborhood needs an adult establishment or two. In my opinion, sexual appetite and gratification should be understood as just another facet of normal and healthy living according to how we are made, and your ever increasing prurient attitude towards it is more unhealthy and unsafe for a community on balance than the proposed Cap Video store. The spirit of puritan Salem lives on …

    Cap Video promises? To be sure I heard them, too. But you didn’t rest with passage of the ordinances you championed to drive them out of town. NPN et al. made it clear that NPN et al. will never tolerate them regardless of what they do. So why should they try to upscale and be more sensitive to the community’s sensitivities?

  18. Here you go again engaging in fear mongering. You know that you cannot demonstrate with certainty that “all of Capital Video’s neighbors will find their property values impaired by the perception of the neighborhood as a ‘red-light’ district.” First of all, you can’t prove that that perception will come to fruition Second, you can’t isolate how one factor will affect property values. You’ve posted the same shaky logic elsewhere, when you said, “This is exactly the kind of display that lends itself to secondary effects, reducing property values, scaring away pedestrians and shoppers.” Can you show evidence that a store display, in and of itself, causes these secondary effects? For instance, will this display cause the Berkshire-Noho group to withdraw its plans for King St.?

    What’s really disturbing here, however, is your willingness trade the rights of all of the citizens of Northampton–I’m referring to where you say, “The bottom line is, because Capital Video doesn’t use freedom responsibly, all of us might have to give up some freedom to reduce Capital’s harm to the community”–so that you don’t have to see a couple of mannequins wearing leather, a display similar to what can be seen elsewhere in town. I agree that the display isn’t the most tasteful thing I’ve ever seen, and I’m guessing that others will find it tasteless as well and not shop there, which will hopefully lead to the store not being successful. Often times the free market can do remarkable things that hastily crafted laws cannot.

  19. OK. Here’s what I see at TBN at the links you mentioned…

    Face the Community. The owners of Oh My…and Pride and Joy are among us, so they must face and discuss with us the concerns community members may have. Why not require something similar for absentee owners and operators? See my letter to the de facto owner of the Amazing video porn store chain posted below.

    Presence. Perhaps require the de facto owners and operators of adult entertainment establishments be either community members, or actually work at their establishments on a full time basis?

    Esthetic Measures. The City Council is considering amendments to ban sexually explicit content from storefronts, but that alone does not guarantee esthetically pleasing storefronts. Indeed, the Amazing video store front in Springfield was nothing but a tawdry sign and ugly cinder block. Why not look into measures that could be implemented to require or encourage esthetically pleasing storefronts?

    Care for Surrounding Areas. What about requiring appropriate outdoor lighting? Care and maintenance of the grounds surrounding the premises? Funding for extra police officers to patrol the premises and surrounding areas, if the establishment stays open during late night hours?

    Licensing. Perhaps there could be implemented a licensing scheme where an adult entertainment establishment would lose its license to operate if there are repeated violations of the standards we require it to abide by? I note to my chagrin how Northampton bar owners, managers and staff throw out their customers as 2 am approaches with remarkable energy and vigor…

    Some of these ideas are indeed interesting and might well be beneficial if implemented in some cases. For all its potential merit, however, requiring certain businessowners to be local residents or at least work locally seems to me to be a radical concept. This could face the same First Amendment challenges as adult-use zoning does, plus other potential legal challenges, since they impose restraints and burdens on trade.

    If you want Northampton city officials to consider acting on your proposals, you need to flesh them out, make them much more specific, cite examples where they are in operation (to the extent possible), and demonstrate how they could survive legal challenges. And, yes, you will have to do this fairly quickly, as Capital Video has given no indication that they want to give the people plenty of time to work out the issues.

    All businesses should be sensitive to the community at all times. You seem to be condoning Capital Video’s deliberate insensitivity. That doesn’t sound like mature behavior on Capital Video’s part or yours.

    Like you, we are conducting our activism in our spare time. Far from receiving a salary, we have spent thousands of dollars of our personal funds on this project (only a small fraction of which has gone to getting advice from outside counsel).

  20. As we’ve discussed before (see Austin and Seattle), it is probable that most of Capital Video’s customers will come from outside the immediate area. These customers want the anonymity of shopping outside their home neighborhoods. Here was the experience with certain adult businesses in Seattle:

    Protests cited decreased property values; increased insurance rates;
    fears of burglary, vandalism, rape, assaults, drugs and prostitution;
    and overall neighborhood deterioration. The report noted that patrons
    of these cabarets most often are not residents of nearby neighborhoods.
    Without community identity, behavior is less inhibited.

    Capital Video, then, offers the worst of both worlds to Northampton. We get the secondary effects from their store, while it is primarily people from outside town who enjoy shopping in the store. Gary Porter from V.I.P. basically admitted this dynamic to a newspaper reporter with respect to a planned Connecticut porn shop.

    Northampton’s adult-use zoning is backed by decades of precedent in this state and elsewhere. It is false to call them hastily crafted.

    What’s disturbing here is your insensitivity to the concerns of your neighbors, and eagerness to dismiss decades of bad community experiences with adult businesses. Many adult business owners have shown that they don’t respect important community concerns unless the community makes a law.

  21. Once again, you’re dodging the question. What you’ve cited from Seattle is a snippet of an unsourced report that relies on fears, the same types of fears you’re foisting upon Northampton.

    I’ll ask it again: Can you show evidence that a store display, in and of itself, causes these secondary effects?

    I am not eager, as you put it, to dismiss “decades of bad community experiences with adult businesses.” I am aware, however, that that hasn’t been the case in Northampton, where we have adult businesses and haven’t seen the effects you mention. You’ll say that’s because the owners of these existing stores are “better” than Capital Video, but how do you propose to legislate responsibility? We already have laws that prohibit harassment of passersby, prostitution, and drug dealing–things that you say will come with a Capital Video store–why are those laws not enough? Why do we now have to figure out a way to pass zoning laws that address issues of “taste”?

    As you’ve said, the law is often a blunt instrument. Why are you so eager to use it every chance you get?

  22. You forgot to mention the suggestions that Cap Video be induced to invest in the neighborhood so it had a vested interest in its condition — which could really be a win, win situation. And, sorry, but its entirely unrealistic to expect me to compete with two people living together and obviously devoted full time to crusading against Cap Video.

    While you may not be receiving a salary the anti-Cap Video cabal that you have created has had the full-time assistance of the City’s staff and its resources, which are ample in view of the $2.3 million surplus it is running. I think if I had had the same advantages, and a full time highly educated committed partner, commencing over three months prior to when I became involved in this debate, the suggestions I have made would have been more detailed.

    I do not mean to condone Cap Video’s plans for the storefront and signage, but to explain probably why they have not made more of an effort to be more sensitive. Some people have speculated to me that you have antagonized Cap Video so much that Cap Video wants to get back at you and your cabal by not trying to be more insensitive. So far as I know, it appears to be the fact that because the NPN cabal, and apparently, City Hall, will never tolerate them regardless of what efforts they put into being more sensitive to the community, they really have no incentive to do more than is legally required.

    Yours/AC

  23. It seems to me that when people say they’re worried about a “slippery slope to censorship,” this is exactly what they mean. Now that your little zoning ordinance has been passed, there’s a risk that it will affect other, admittedly legitimate, businesses. The lingerie shop downtown bothers no one and was not targeted by the zoning ordinance. But it may fall within the scope of the ordinance and be forced to change its business practices in order to comply.

    If this lingerie store does fall within the scope of the ordinance because of its proximity to the church on Main & Center, then either 1) the city will be forced to shut them down or make them change their legitimate, inoffensive, longstanding display, or 2) the city will be forced to apply its laws inconsistently.

    I think that both of these options are abhorrent and inconsistent with the principles on which our country was founded. The fact that this is even possible is abhorrent and inconsistent with the principle son which our country was founded. If you think that it’s “worth it” or “unfortunate but necessary,” or part of a “balancing act” between first amendment concerns and threats to the value of your property, I question whether you understand what this country is all about. As Always Controversial has pointed out, the First Amendment is the *first* amendment. It comes first in order because it’s the most important. While the Supreme Court has been willing to make exceptions, there is currently no exception for (merely) offensive, inconvenient, or costly speech.

    I also wonder whether the local librarian would be an expert about the effects of adult-use zoning laws on lingerie shops.

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