The city’s crackdown on sex shops officially got under way this weekend with the padlocking of three topless bars, Mayor Giuliani announced yesterday.
The three were closed Friday as part of at least a dozen enforcement proceedings the city launched against live-sex entertainment premises and book and video stores.
The padlocked bars are: El Coche, 904 Hunts Point Ave., the Bronx; Wiggles, 8814 Avenue D, Brooklyn, and Sharks Go Go Bar, 589 Lincoln Ave., Staten Island.
The closure of Sharks, a topless club in residential Midland Beach, was greeted with relief by neighbors and parishioners of St. Mary Margaret Catholic Church, which is a block away.
As young children rode bikes on the quiet street, a woman who lives next door to the bar said that patrons sometimes had sex with dancers in cars on the street. She requested anonymity.
Mario Pisciottano, 74, a neighborhood resident on his way to Mass last evening, said, “It’s about time they closed that place. We’ve been fighting to get them out of here for a long time. The only ones complaining are the patrons who have got to hunt for a new place.”
Pisciottano said the brick building had housed a neighborhood bar until its owners converted the place into a strip club almost 10 years ago.
Two bright orange stickers on the bar’s metal gate announced that the place was “closed by court order.”
The orders were obtained from state Supreme Court justices under the city’s nuisance-abatement procedures a civil process that allows a premise to be padlocked after three separate violations of various laws, including the 1995 sex-shop zoning law.
Under that statute, sex shops are prohibited within 500 feet of residential areas, schools, churches, day care centers and other X-rated businesses.
Though the sex zoning law was enacted in 1995, opponents managed to block enforcement until now through numerous constitutional challenges and appeals that were finally resolved in the city’s favor.
Judges granted temporary closing orders against the three topless bars based on evidence city inspectors and plainclothes cops gathered by posing as customers, according to the mayor and his criminal justice coordinator, Steven Fishner.
Fishner said the sex-enforcement inspectors either saw dancers in a prohibited “state of undress,” or dancing in forbidden ways, such as simulating sex acts.
The city’s enforcement action will now trigger protracted case-by-case litigation that will revolve around specific provisions and definitions in the zoning law, rather than the law’s constitutionality.
For instance, the law covers book or video stores that devote “a substantial portion” of their stock to material featuring “specified sexual activities” of a graphic sexual nature. Lawyers for padlocked shops plan to squabble over each definition.
Giuliani was confident yesterday that the closures marked the beginning of the end of most of the 146 sex shops originally targeted for closing under the sex-zoning law.
“The race here will go to the steady, not the quick,” Giuliani said of the expected court fights triggered by the crackdown.
Herald Price Fahringer, a lawyer who represents most of the endangered X-rated businesses, said the three closed bars are not among his clients. All he would say was, “When they start with my clients, I’ll be ready for them.”
Closing orders against one of his clients, Show World in Times Square around the corner from a Catholic church are to be argued tomorrow.