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Leesburg Council Questions Legal Limits Of Downtown Lingerie Shop

© Leesburg Today - 09/22/2015

In response to a wave of emailed complaints, the Leesburg Town Council on Monday night discussed whether they could prohibit the window displays of lingerie at the La Tache shop in downtown Leesburg.

Some residents want the store shut down altogether.

The council's inquiries about the lingerie shop come three days before the town government holds a forum and brainstorming session on how to draw and retain downtown retailers. The meeting, ""A Conversation About Downtown Retail and Businesses,"" is planned for Thursday, Sept. 24, from 4 to 6 p.m. at Palio Ristorante Italiano, which neighbors La Tache.

Town Attorney Barbara Notar told council members Monday that the shop, which opened on the corner of King and Market streets in 2010, is operating completely within legal boundaries.

""They are not breaking the law or any town ordinances,"" Notar said. ""There can be no prevention of doing what they're doing.""

She said the products displayed at La Tache-which claims on its website to ""carry the largest selection of sex toys, lingerie, personal lubricants, hosiery, male and female enhancement/performance products in the Washington DC metro area""-does not match the definition of obscene materials.

The town attorney noted that, while obscenity is not protected by the First Amendment, pornography is.

""Freedom of expression is expanding, not getting smaller,"" Notar said. ""After speaking with the business, they did tone down their displays. They're voluntarily trying to tone things down.""

Email complaints from residents stated the window displays of mannequins wearing lingerie are not sending the right message to youth, with some calling for the removal of the business.

""Why do we have to have such unchaste and disgusting displays of women in a beautiful, old town as Leesburg?"" Mary L. Chaney wrote. ""Please do something to get rid of this store as soon as possible. I wonder what else goes on in this building!""

Elsa Rose Hoffman said with the town's growth, residents don't need a controversial shop downtown.

""Do we really need a skanky little shop across the street from the courthouse to remind us every day what a mess our county is in?"" Hoffman wrote. ""And at worst, it is promoting behavior and objectification of women and the life-giving aspect of love-making, that lead to sex trafficking being a multi-billion dollar industry.""

An employee at La Tache said that juveniles are not allowed inside the store, although by law they have a right to be, and each young person is requested to show an ID when walking in. The employee also said lingerie displays on the windows have drawn customers in for years, and people routinely purchase the display clothing after seeing it on a mannequin through the window.

Zoning Administrator Chris Murphy pointed out that Victoria's Secret is in ""every mall in America"" and La Tache is no different from that. He said the council could request an ordinance be created that would only permit adult-oriented businesses in certain areas of town or prohibit them altogether, but any newly created ordinance would not apply to a store already in business.

""There's nothing you can do,"" Murphy said.

""It's unfortunate that there are businesses that I wouldn't want in town,"" Councilman Tom Dunn said. ""Based on my beliefs, I see no need for it.""

Most council members were open to creating a new district that would restrict adult-oriented businesses to certain areas.

""We have limited options to enforce anything based on federal, state and local ordinances,"" Councilwoman Katie Sheldon Hammler said. ""I would support sending a letter from council with a copy of every email to the store owner requesting a compromise on the displays.""

Councilwoman Suzanne Fox said that some residents have expressed an interest in picketing the business, but Councilman Dave Butler said picketing often brings ""the opposite effect those people want because it brings more attention to the business.""

He opposed sending a letter to La Tache, which ""isn't even close to obscene.""

""Let's say it was a Muslim-owned business and people were complaining about it, we wouldn't do anything,"" Butler said.

The council may bring the topic up at a future meeting to create a special district ""so this kind of thing doesn't happen again,"" Mayor Kristen Umstattd said.

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