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Romantic Depot, Clinton Hill reach climactic peace treaty, will be intimately involved going forward

clinton hill romantic depot
Romantic Depot has made a number of changes to its facade after dialogue with its Clinton Hill neighbors.
Photo by Ben Brachfeld

Romantic Depot, Brooklyn’s most controversial sex shop, has reached an historic peace settlement with hot-and-heavy neighbors who had claimed the adult shop was an ill-fit for its spot in Clinton Hill. All parties reported feeling pleased and satisfied by the agreement.

After two months of negotiations presided over by the Rev. Kevin McCall, a local civil rights activist, the two sides announced the deal in front of the sexy chain’s Brooklyn outlet on Fulton Street and Washington Avenue, which opened on Valentine’s Day of this year.

The business agreed to a number of changes to the store’s outdoor display, including the removal of a mural of Biggie Smalls, LED lighting (which neighbors said made it hard to sleep), and various signs explicitly touting the sexy merchandise that could be found within.

Signage promoting lingerie and toys were replaced with those promoting health, wellness, and “clothing,” while new signage has been put up advertising Romantic Depot as a safe space, particularly for LGBTQ+ Brooklynites. The store will be closed on Sunday mornings so local children can’t walk in after services at nearby churches, new advanced security cameras have been installed to deter theft, and the store committed to host educational workshops on topics such as HIV.

reverend mccall at romantic depot
The Rev. Kevin McCall (center) mediated peace talks between Romantic Depot and distraught neighbors. He announced a deal on Wednesday, June 1. Photo by Ben Brachfeld

Most notably, the store will meet with a committee of representatives from local neighborhood associations thrice per year to ensure it remains within the agreed boundaries.

“We said that we wanted to make that the community is heard,” McCall said at a press conference outside the door on June 1. “Well, we got together after two months of long mediation, and asked and demanded, and bickered and argued, and we went back-and-forth as any community would. And we found out that we can all be of one accord.”

The controversy rose up after residents argued at the Community Board and Precinct Council that the store posed a danger to the delicate eyes of local youngsters, and was possibly in violation of Giuliani-era zoning code forbidding adult establishments from operating near churches and schools. The city ultimately determined the business was a retail establishment in line with the zoning code, but angry neighbors still came out to protest the store in March and demand it move or shut down.

romantic depot sign
Romantic Depot now presents itself to the community as a safe-space, not just an emporn-ium.Photo by Ben Brachfeld

McCall and Romantic Depot regional managing director Glenn Buzzetti agreed to establish a line of dialogue at the March protest, and in a series of meetings, devised a plan to address outlying concerns and ensure an intimate relationship between the shop and community going forward.

The new signage, he said, will allow children to ask questions about sexuality instead of being bombarded with material before they’re ready. And the store is now located in a “neighborhood watch zone,” denoted by new signage, wherein any community member who observes a breach of the agreement can inform the committee or the store’s management to fix the problem.

While McCall said there were still some outlying concerns, he feels a great number of issues were addressed and that Romantic Depot is willing to listen. He said that he believes the community engagement process with Romantic Depot should be a model for other businesses and real estate developers.

Supporters and opponents of Romantic Depot came to a head at a protest in March, which spurred the community engagement process. File photo by Ben Brachfeld

“That’s what we need businesses and developers to focus on in our community,” McCall said. “Not just come and build a store here or build any corporation here, and you don’t talk to the community first. That was our message from the beginning, coming to the community first, and then we can sit down and unite on this issue.”

Buzzetti said that Romantic Depot — which has 11 stores in New York and New Jersey — would follow a similar community engagement process if it ever wanted to expand further in Brooklyn.

“Definitely, we’ve learned a lesson here,” Buzzetti said. “So many people have helped us understand, we’re pretty much desensitized by what we see on a daily basis, because we’re in this business. So if we looked at it on the outside, someone that’s not working in this business, that has children, they feel a different way about seeing these types of products that have sexual connotations to them. So we took steps to ensure our signage was changed, and we did it for the neighborhood.”

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