Jonesboro vs. Adam & Eve: A Tale of Official Ignorance

JONESBORO, Ark.—When AVN reported on the Eighth Circuit decision to uphold a local judge's ruling denying Steve Norman a permit to open an Adam & Eve franchise store at 1518 S. Caraway Rd. in Jonesboro, we had little idea of the shenanigans the city had pulled to keep the store out of town—or the unbelievable ignorance expressed by city officials in denying the Normans a certificate of occupancy after having already granted them a privilege license to begin the remodeling of the existing building, a former Payless shoe store.

The tale has its beginnings in the arcane system under which potential business owners attempt to get their businesses approved by the city. According to the city's current (undated) Privilege License Application, obtaining such a license requires three steps: 1) Visit the Planning/Zoning Department for approval for any business; 2) Have a Certificate of Occupancy Inspection ordered with the Inspections Department; and 3) Submit application to Collections Office for fee payment. So, since Norman did obtain a Privilege License—in fact, two of them!—for his Adam & Eve franchise, one has to assume that he followed the above steps—even though Chief City Inspector Tim Renshaw claimed in his deposition that he'd never been asked to inspect the A&E store's renovations—and claims that Norman would be lying if he said he'd asked Renshaw to inspect the store in preparation for the issuance of a Certificate of Occupancy.

"The City Attorney told me and the City Collector when I applied for the permit 'he can operate anywhere within the city limits with no restrictions,' and testified under oath as such," Norman told AVN—and indeed, the Privilege License Application states, "If you are an Arkansas business based outside of the Jonesboro city limits and already possess a business license from another Arkansas city, you only need to fill out this Privilege License application and return it to the Collections Office. The City of Jonesboro will honor your other license."

Norman indeed owns three other Arkansas-based A&E franchises, including one in Little Rock and one in Fort Smith, and although his proposed Jonesboro store would have been within the Jonesboro city limits, it's reasonable to assume that he was nevertheless issued his first Privilege License in 2017 based on those other business ownerships.

With the Privilege License in hand, Norman went about renovating the Payless store front to accommodate the lingerie—satin and lace corsets, body stockings, baby dolls, teddies, and "naughty" costumes, as well as mesh thongs, boxers and "package-enhancing" shorts for men—erection-enhancing vitamins, amino acids and natural substances; sanitizing creams and massage oils; and lubricants, as well as a small number of vibrators and other sex toys, and possibly even some bondage gear—most of which were already being sold in local businesses like Spencer's (formerly Spencer's Gifts), CVS Pharmacy, Walgreens, Walmart and Family Dollar, which had been selling the items since at least 2007—and none of which were branded as "adult businesses." Also not an "adult business" was the Kroger supermarket across from the location, which Norman told AVN sells cockrings.

These renovations were ongoing through much of 2017, but in early 2018, Jonesboro Mayor Harold Perrin testified that he got a phone call from Matt Smith, pastor of Refuge Church of the Assemblies of God, asking about any city ordinance that would prohibit the A&E store on South Caraway Road from being too close to a church, and indeed, Arkansas Act 387 does require that adult businesses be at least 1,000 feet from churches, schools and other "sensitive uses." However, a study of the map (above) shows that from the front door of the proposed Adam & Eve store to the front door of the Refuge Church is more than 1,000 feet—and more than a mile from the Montessori School, located at 300 E. Nettleton Ave., which Perrin also claimed would be too close to the store.

But of course, the key would be whether the Adam & Eve franchise store would properly be classified as an "adult business." As previously noted, Norman has two other stores within the state, and though they each sell the same products as the Jonesboro location would have sold, neither of them has been classified by their municipalities as "adult businesses," even though one has a church directly behind it, so the question is, why would the Jonesboro location have been any different?

And that's where the city leaders' abysmal ignorance comes in. Norman's attorney, Lloyd Kitchens, took depositions of Mayor Perrin, Chief Inspector Renshaw, City Attorney Carol Duncan, and Director of Planning and Zoning Darrel Smith—and to a one, each testified that he/she had never been inside an Adam & Eve retail store, and that the closest they had come to an "understanding" of what such a retail store would sell was their having seen late-night TV ads for Adam & Eve's web store!

Smith testified that he'd seen the A&E TV ads, stating, "They're on at 3:00 in the morning advertising DVDs and sexual toys." When asked if the Jonesboro location would be selling "porn," Smith replied, "I don't have any reason to believe they weren't," adding later that he finds sex toys "objectionable." He also testified that he, Duncan and Renshaw had discussed the store and "determined that it was adult entertainment."

City Attorney Duncan testified during her own deposition that she believes lubricants and condoms are "adult products" because they aid in "a specific sexual activity," referencing Act 387's language that one indicator that a business is adult is that one of its "principal business purposes" is selling "An instrument, a device, or paraphernalia that is designed for use in connection with a specific sexual activity"—with Duncan commenting about "principal business purpose" that, "I would say if you get in the 15 to 20 [percent] range, it would raise a red flag for us and we [City of Jonesboro] would consider it probably an adult bookstore," adding later, "In my mind, anything above 15 percent I think is a pretty clear percentage of their business. I think it's a primary business function." However, despite her own views, she agreed with Kitchens that Act 387 contains no specific percentage of retail stock that could be used to differentiate an "adult business" from other "non-adult" businesses selling similar items.

"One of the things we looked at is the article that your client was interviewed in with the Jonesboro Sun, where he expressed that they sold adult items and that you had to be 18 to enter his store, and we based it on that in combination with what the website showed us," Duncan stated, again agreeing that she had never been inside an Adam & Eve retail store.

But perhaps the key witness was Renshaw, who claimed in his deposition that he, as Chief Inspector, didn't have anything to do with Norman/A&E getting a Privilege License, despite the fact that according to the application for same, the applicant was required to "have a Certificate of Occupancy Inspection ordered with the Inspections Department"—in other words, Renshaw's department—which Renshaw claims Norman never requested. Renshaw also said he thinks Darrel Smith "probably" decided A&E didn't meet the zoning requirements, and that's why no inspection was made. Moreover, Mayor Perrin testified that he doesn't know anyone in the city who told A&E that they were not going to be able to operate on Caraway Road in 2017.

In fact, Renshaw claims that the first time he was aware of a prospective Adam & Eve store in the city was when Norman requested a permit to erect a sign for the business—a permit which Renshaw believes Smith denied.

"We were denied a signage permit because they claimed it was 'offensive,'" Norman told AVN, even though the only words on the sign would be "Adam & Eve," and that after taking down the "Payless" sign, he would be fined if he didn't replace the remaining bare fluorescent bulbs with something.

Renshaw was also the most transparent regarding his feelings about adult products. He testified that he "got some assumptions" that "what they sell is objectionable"; that he assumed that they would be selling "adult books, pornography"; that he thinks A&E is an adult bookstore based on Adam & Eve's TV ads, though he admitted he'd never been inside another A&E store, though he saw lingerie through the window of the Caraway Road location. He also opined that "everybody knows" they're "that type of business" from "hearsay."

Finally, the judge who handed down the original decision denying Norman a Certificate of Occupancy referred to the A&E location as a "red light district," which usually signifies that adult businesses and/or prostitutes have been seen in the vicinity, though police records do not indicate any prostitution arrests in the area—and it's pretty clear that Burger Kings, McDonald'ses, Goodwill stores and Sherwin-Williams paint stores are not "adult businesses" in the legal sense.

Norman also told AVN that he's giving up trying to locate an Adam & Eve franchise store in Jonesboro.