Opposition to new Clinton Hill sex shop reaches climax

The new Romantic Depot on Fulton and Washington is the subject of stiff controversy among locals
Photo by Ben Brachfeld

Clinton Hill locals seeking to evict a new sex shop from their “family” neighborhood reached a climax Tuesday night at a police community precinct meeting as neighbors attempted to get the new Romantic Depot to take a walk of shame on zoning code technicalities.

The new Romantic Depot opened its doors at the corner of Fulton Street and Washington Avenue last month on Valentine’s Day. The em-porn-ium sells all manner of sexy gizmos, knick-knacks, and whatchamacallits, including dildos, vibrators, buttplugs, fleshlights, sex dolls, S&M gadgetry, and even sexy candy. The store — which also has locations in Harlem, Sunnyside, Queens, and Eastchester, Bronx — is the chain’s first location in Brooklyn and contains both a ground-floor level and a basement, where they keep extra-naughty items.

Phallic candy sold at Romantic Depot.Photo by Ben Brachfeld

But hot-and-heavy neighbors are sounding the alarm, arguing that not only is the store a danger to the delicate eyes of local youngsters, but also that the store is in violation of the city’s zoning code, which requires that “adult establishments” not be sited within 500 feet of a school or a house of worship. Two churches and a mosque are situated within 500 feet.

“We need a business that’s going to provide products and services for families,” said local resident Suzanne DeBrango, as she stood in front of the adult establishment which was formerly a check-cashing store. “This is just not in keeping with the way the neighborhood is evolving, it’s just in poor taste.”

DeBrango argues that the corner of Fulton and Washington is too family-oriented to house a sex store, with children losing their innocence as they gawk at the suggestive signs and peer into the establishment as they walk to the adjacent Clinton-Washington Avenues subway stop. She said she hopes the community can get the shop to move, possibly to Atlantic Avenue, where she believes there wouldn’t be as much child foot traffic.

A mannequin on display at Romantic Depot.Photo by Ben Brachfeld

After gathering over 100 petition signatures online and much more in-person, locals erect in furor crowded the 88th Precinct’s Council meeting Tuesday night to argue that the store was in violation of zoning ordinances, though precinct leadership and a representative from FAB Fulton, the local business improvement district, noted that there was nothing cops could do if the store is not actually doing anything illegal.

“I understand this business is not particularly accepted,” said Christina Chavez, executive director of FAB Fulton. “But if they’re not doing anything illegal, then at the end of the day, they have a right to be there just like the deli across the street or the restaurant next door.”

Opponents say that the store is utilizing a loophole within the zoning code by selling only toys and gadgetry and refraining from selling pornographic movies or books or putting on sex shows. The zoning code as it relates to adult establishments has not been amended since 2004. A spokesperson for the Department of Buildings said the business has been the subject of several recent 311 complaints, and that agency inspectors will visit the store to conduct a field inspection in the cumming days.

In the years since the zoning code was last amended, the sex industry has been substantially relocated online, where pornography is easily and freely available, and porno theaters and adult video stores have largely gone the way of the dodo, leaving toys and paraphernalia as the industry’s major consumer item for retail establishments. Adult retail has, somewhat surprisingly, not disappeared the way adult theater did, despite the ready availability of items for sale online.

Employees at the store declined to comment, citing a directive not to speak with press, and emails to a manager were not returned. A sign outside the store seeks to assuage concerned residents by presenting the store as an upscale, classy kink parlor.

“We look forward to working with the Clinton Hill, Brooklyn community in being good neighbors, demonstrated by over 21+ years of success,” the sign reads. “We understand sexuality is a controversial issue to some. Please understand we have flourished by becoming the largest chain of NYC area stores, located across several other family-oriented communities…There have been no issues with our stores in any of those areas, as we operate in a tasteful, fun way.”

“We can assure you, there will be no problems at our Clinton Hill, Brooklyn location,” the sign continues, going on to note that the company will not allow minors to enter the “sexual health and wellness areas of our stores.”

And by no means is everyone upset by Romantic Depot’s entree to Clinton Hill.

“Nobody’s forcing anybody to go in anywhere,” said Henny Familia, a Clinton Avenue resident who has shopped for phallic candy at the store before. “You know what you’re getting in there. Obviously, you’re not gonna come here with your children.”

“We want it. What’s wrong with being sexual,” she continued, noting that she has children but would not bring them to the store. “You don’t see nothing crazy outside, you don’t see no booty, you don’t see no nudity. So what’s wrong?”

Correction (March 17, 9:40 pm): This article has been amended with a corrected spelling of Suzanne DeBrango’s name. It originally was spelled as DiBrango.