There are adult books at Barnes and Noble. There are sexy undergarments and lotions at Walmart.
But put them all together in a garish building, heavy on the neon, and you've got something that attracts crime, brings down property values and can leave a community damaged.
Tonight the Belleville City Council will decide whether to regulate everything from "romance" stores to strip clubs, peep shows and adult book stores. The surprise is not that they want to put a law on the books, but rather that there wasn't already one.
The current desire to regulate sexually oriented businesses is likely motivated by a pair of federal lawsuits against Cahokia and Collinsville by Doctor John’s Lingerie and Novelty Boutique. The company argues that it is not a seedy sex shop but rather a romance store.
"The simple fact is if you pass a law against adult entertainment and try and use it against something that’s not adult entertainment, it’s not going to be terribly helpful to you,” said Dr. John's attorney Andrew McCullough.
He may have a point.
Fairview Heights city leaders wrung their hands when Pure Pleasure Megacenter opened, but its neighboring commercial spaces are filled and selling batteries, burgers, weaves and loans. They, like Dr. John's, say their clients are mainly women and not creepers in raincoats.
But the peep shows and strip clubs do attract prostitution, drugs and other crime, with rates between two and five times greater around sexually oriented businesses in Austin and Phoenix. They do lower property values for residential neighborhoods, with 71 percent of Texas property appraisers surveyed saying that impact continues for at least one-half mile away from the businesses.
Belleville city leaders want to protect the community from crime and property owners from losing value by pushing the sex businesses into industrial areas, at least 1,000 feet from homes. They should pass this ordinance, which follows most of the court decisions that say communities must make the laws less about content and all about context.
Still, Dr. John's may try to have its way with the city in court. It's difficult to win on the weight of the evidence when you are arguing about lacy undergarments.