A “sex shop” opened on Sheepshead Bay Road this Tuesday, and its risqué window display is getting residents hot under the collar, spurring one local politician to take action.
KamaSutra at 1717 Sheepshead Bay Road sells skimpy lingerie, sex toys, novelties and massage oils, in addition to a handful of unrelated merchandise like glass pipes and water pipes.
The owner, who declined to give a name other than “John,” said he’s been running shops like KamaSutra for thirty years. He thought Sheepshead Bay is as good a location as any to pimp his provocative products.
“A place like this is going to work anywhere,” he said. “We’re all the same. We all use lingerie, we use toys. This can work anywhere.”
But some residents and store owners along Sheepshead Bay Road want KamaSutra out, saying it doesn’t belong in the neighborhood.
“It’s disgusting. There’s only one word for it: disgusting,” said Lana P., the owner of Golden Door, an upscale jewelry designer across the street from KamaSutra. “There’s a kids’ store, a ballet studio, a karate school [within a block of the boutique]. This is a shame that they opened this in this area.” She also said potential vendors to her store who visit from Switzerland and Italy might get the wrong idea about her business when they see KamaSutra across the street.
But little can be done about the store’s existence. Adult establishments are categorized as those that stock pornographic materials, like magazines and videos, or have live shows. Those businesses are restricted from operating in residential neighborhoods or within 500 feet of schools, day care centers, houses of worship, or any other adult establishment. So long as less than 40 percent of the product fill that category, the shop can operate like any other business. KamaSutra doesn’t sell pornography. Sex toys are considered marital aids and do not contribute to the 40 percent; lingerie and novelty items are also considered separate items.
KamaSutra’s owner said neighbors shouldn’t be so quick to push him out, since his offerings could be far more provocative.
“This is the most neat, clean, low-profile store I have,” he said. “Nothing too aggressive.”
Most of the shopkeepers don’t seem as concerned with what the store is selling as much as they worry about the window display.
“It’s no problem for our clients,” said Lily Margayan, an employee with Brighton Beauty Supply across the street. “It’s not like they’re going to choose, ‘hmm – sex shop or beauty store?’”
Brighton Beauty Supply manager Sofia Aslanova agrees. “Let them stay,” she said. “Business is business. But it’s not for kids. They need to calm down the display for kids going past.”
“The biggest concern was that the window was risqué,” said Oswalt Heymann, Assemblyman Steven Cymbrowitz’s chief of staff. Heymann said the office received a handful of complaints from constituents and business owners.
On a Thursday visit, the window had lingerie packages with nude women (nipples and such were digitally removed), several items depicting penises, as well as water pipes. And kids are taking notice; during our visit a group of tween boys stopped mid-pace to gawk at the window, and began daring each other to go in (one did, and was promptly kicked out).
“I don’t think this is the place for the store, and mostly I’m concerned for the kids,” said Sabina Furman, the owner of Rascals, a kids clothing and accessory store at 1730 Sheepshead Bay Road. Furman said she worries the window display may hurt her business, since, as a parent, she would not walk with her children – 7 and 10 – down that stretch of Sheepshead Bay Road. She thinks the window display may reduce foot traffic to her store.
“I don’t know where they should go,” Furman added. “Maybe they can stay here, but the window display is just crazy. I don’t think they’ll survive anyway.”
Cymbrowitz reacted quickly to hearing such complaints. His office spoke to representatives of the store, and they promised him that by Friday morning the display would be toned down.
“We want to be on good terms with the neighbors,” said KamaSutra’s owner. “We were told there was some stuff in the window that they don’t like, so we’ll take it out.” He said the glass pipes are among the things to be removed.
That’s good news to some residents, who welcome the diversity to Sheepshead Bay’s shopping district.
“I’m way more excited than I should be,” said Marina G. “I think it’s a lot different from what’s around here.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: The following photos show closeups of some of the items in the window display. Some may consider the images graphic. The images may not be safe for viewing in a work environment.