OBX Romance Store went a little too far, town says

By on April 24, 2011

Racy bachelorette party supplies at a new Kitty Hawk store have been toned down enough to meet acceptable local standards, while still allowing leeway for some romantic fun or giddy bridal sendoffs.

Weeks after the OBX Romance Store opened just before Valentine’s Day at Ocean Plaza, some citizens complained to the mayor that items for sale in the back room violated the sexually oriented business ordinance, Director of Planning Joe Heard said.

But proprietor David Hunt said that his well-lit store is meant to serve the Outer Banks wedding and couple’s market, and he has taken care to be tasteful and discreet.

“A lot of people come down here for a romantic getaway,” he said. “We promote marriage. We promote monogamy. We’re not out there targeting swingers.”

When the town investigated the store, which sells lingerie and adult novelty items, Heard said, it determined that some personal vibrators were too anatomically correct — a violation of the town ordinance.

“These are in different shapes and sizes and do not fall within the types that can be found in other stores in town,” Code Enforcement officer Ben Alexander said in a March 29 letter to Hunt.

After explaining the local law, Heard said, Hunt willingly removed the offending items. Products similar to what can be purchased at local pharmacies, including lotions, oils and various battery-operated massagers, were deemed permissible.

Hunt said his store is the first on the Outer Banks to cater to the zesty side of the wedding market, a huge and growing industry on the Outer Banks. Numerous items in the walled-off area of OBX Romance are gag gifts clearly geared for bachelor and bachelorette parties. But there are no X-rated DVDS or sleazy books.

According to the town ordinance, sexually-oriented businesses are defined in part as those that offer patrons devices intended to appeal to sexual interests or titillation. But Hunt said the way it’s defined leaves a lot of room for interpretation.

“Well, what do you do about cucumbers and Wesson oil at Harris Teeter’s?” he said.

Store owner David Hunt.

Acknowledging the shades of gray in the ordinance, Heard said that the town attorney is working to refine what defines sexually-oriented devices and businesses, which are permissible only in special zones. No such zones currently exist in Kitty Hawk, he said.

“Legally, it’s an interesting issue for communities, not just in North Carolina,” he said. “You can’t say, ‘No you can’t do that in this town. Period.’ But you can set standards. So there are ways it can be restricted.”

Hunt said that customers have been all stripes, ranging from older married couples looking to spice things up to young dating singles to couples about to be married, as well as members of wedding parties looking for silly party favors.

“We haven’t had any real negative comments from people coming in here and saying ‘You’re going to go to hell,’ ” he said.

Hunt, operator of Leather & Lace stores in Chesapeake and Norfolk, said he saw opportunity in the Outer Banks bridal market, but with less edgy, more couples-friendly merchandise. Initially, he planned to set up shop at Sea Gate North Plaza in Kill Devil Hills, but when he pulled up with his truck and began unloading fixtures, he was confronted by “agitated” tenants in the strip mall. Soon, the landlord terminated his lease, he said.

Now that issues seem to be straightened out with Kitty Hawk, Hunt says he is happy with his new location directly off the bypass, and apparently so are his neighbors.

Christine Da Mota, who owns the next door shop, the Wine Specialist, with her husband, said that OBX Romance dovetails well with their business, which also caters in part to the bridal industry.

Da Mota said she has heard no complaints “whatsoever. None.” — even from older, more conservative people.

“We’re very happy to have him here,” she said of Hunt. “He’s bringing customers.

“We have the chocolate and the champagne, and he has the rest.”

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