October 10, 2011

Alliance Town Center says shop is sexually oriented

Its lawsuit accuses The Velvet Box in Sam Moon Center of being a sexually oriented business.

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Alliance Town Center in Fort Worth has filed suit against retailer Sam Moon and one of Moon's tenants, The Velvet Box, a gift shop Alliance says is violating property covenants and public ordinances by operating as a sexually oriented business.

The suit, assigned to the 342nd state District Court in Fort Worth, seeks a permanent injunction against Velvet Box, damages, court costs and attorneys' fees.

In September 2009, Velvet Box signed a five-year lease for a 2,000-square-foot space in the Sam Moon Center off Interstate 35W in far north Fort Worth. The Sam Moon Center is in the Alliance Town Center, on property owned by Sam Moon, the popular Dallas retailer and developer. Sam Moon is subject to covenants in its agreement with Alliance.

"Velvet Box operates a sexually oriented business ... and operates its business in violation of certain public codes and ordinances," the suit says.

Shauna Wright, an attorney for Kelly Hart & Hallman, which represents the Alliance Town Center Association, the governing organization that filed the suit, declined to elaborate. "We're going to reserve comment and rely on the petition," Wright said.

Alliance Town Center did not state specific violations in its suit.

Velvet Box is not classified as a sexually oriented business on its Fort Worth certificate of occupancy, said Bill Begley, a city spokesman.

The ordinance says businesses may be classified as sexually oriented if 35 percent of merchandise is sexually oriented.

The city's Planning and Development Department and police vice squad determine that together. The process includes an on-site police inspection.

"We are not a sexually oriented business according to the city of Fort Worth," said Marcelle LeBlanc, who owns Velvet Box with partners. "The covenants say no prostitution, no nude massaging, none of which we do. Vice has been out to the store and says we are not [a sexually oriented business]. We've invited the [Alliance] attorneys to please visit with us and point out exactly what the issues are. They've simply refused to meet."

Alliance Town Center sent a letter to Velvet Box on Sept. 24, 2010, arguing that the store violates a covenant against "sexually oriented business such as, but not limited to, adult movie or video sales, or adult theater or rental facility, nude modeling studio, massage parlor, lounge or club featuring nude or seminude entertainers or escort service." The letter gave Velvet Box 20 days to comply.

The letter, a copy of which LeBlanc provided to the Star-Telegram, also says Velvet Box has violated a Fort Worth ordinance that says: "a person commits an offense if, in a business establishment open to persons under the age of 17 years, he displays a book, pamphlet, newspaper, magazine, film or video cassette, the cover of which depicts, in a manner calculated to arouse sexual lust or passion for commercial gain or to exploit sexual lust or perversion for commercial gain." The ordinance goes on to detail various offensive depictions, although LeBlanc said her merchandise simply doesn't fit those descriptions.

"We're not in violation of anything in the covenants," said LeBlanc, who added that her store has five employees. "There's nothing in the store that has any nudity, there's nothing in the store that is shaped like a body part. We don't sell pornography."

LeBlanc, who this summer opened a second Velvet Box off the trendy West Seventh Street corridor in Fort Worth, says she sells vibrators, massage oils, candles, reference books, hosiery, lingerie, and DVDs, including a $25 educational pole-dancing video featuring fully clothed instructors and actors.

LeBlanc said she's changed nothing about her store since the dispute surfaced.

Daniel Moon, Sam Moon's general counsel, said he had just been informed of the suit and had no additional information.

Scott Nishimura, 817-390-7808

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