Last issue I began discussing an issue of concern for my family, my neighbourhood and myself. In a neighbourhood-organized rally, I was protesting the opening of a Source Adult Video store at the end of my street. Not only does this store rent adult videos, it sells sex toys, gifts, clothing and magazines. It is also open 24 hours a day 7 days a week. This is on a street where my daughters walk to and from school and wander with friends; they shouldn’t have to feel uncomfortable or unsafe in their own neighbourhood. There are also a large number of other young families with children and teens in this neighbourhood.
My concern has nothing to do with passing moral judgement on the store itself. I consider pornography degrading to women, but I try to have a tolerant, non-judgemental attitude towards behaviours other adults choose to engage in. If consenting adults want to participate in the making or viewing of pornography, I consider it a matter of personal choice. I don’t think that people who rent adult videos are all perverts either. I’m protesting this store because I think it is in an inappropriate location: one that affects myself and family on a personal level.
I called my alderman (and woman), but although I left a message, received no response. I then read through the City of Edmonton zoning bylaws (www.gov.edmonton.ab.ca) to try and find out how a business like that could open without the neighbours being informed. According to the bylaws governing the “mature neighbourhood overlay,” if a development application is “easily interpreted as a permitted use that conforms in all respects, no notice is provided.” Peep shows and escort services are restricted to industrial areas, but adult video and gift stores qualify as “general retail facilities” and are allowed in most commercial zones. This apparently includes residential neighbourhoods with mature neighbourhood overlay status, which is why no notice was given. What I found quite amazing was that according to the zoning bylaws, a church or religious meeting place opening up in that space would have had to give notice and have the neighbours’ permission. But a XXX Adult store open 24/7 does not!
On my way home from work on Saturday, I decided to stop and check out the store. I figured that I could not complain about something unless I knew exactly what it was about. It was around 12:20 AM when I entered the store. In regular video stores the adult video section is always hidden in some dark corner, and I was taken aback by the clean, sterile look. Windows are all covered over, and everything is laid out systematically under bright lights and open spaces. A lone customer thumbed through a magazine. I quickly cruised through the “gift” section trying not to look too closely at the wide variety of graphic plastic replicas. The “Fist” stopped me cold…. but I hastily averted my eyes and moved into the clothing section. Cute T-shirts were interspersed with sexy underwear and other oddities. I crossed into the video side, and now I was almost at a run…. my eyes skimming over the graphic videos that lined the shelves.
I whipped through each aisle, barely registering the pornographic images that assailed me from every side; sections neatly divided depending on sexual preferences. I felt somewhat guilty at feeling like a prude – torn between remaining non-judgemental yet retaining a sense of outrage. The store proprietor was conversing on the phone the entire time, but I could feel his eyes upon me as I cruised around. I imagined him wondering which type of kinky video I was going to rent, and suddenly shared my daughters’ feelings of discomfort.
After a few minutes I had seen enough and left. The parking lot was well lit but deserted. I drove up the block thinking that maybe the store wasn’t so bad after all. It was discreet, clean and the parking lot was safely lit. I still had concerns about our property value dropping, the increased traffic 24 hours a day, and of course most importantly the feelings of my daughters about having to walk past it. But I was having doubts that our protests would have any effect. Maybe we would just have to learn to live in harmony?
The next morning, however, my kindly feelings departed when my daughter advised me that two of her under-18 girlfriends had gone into the store – just to see if they would get in. They were asked if they were 18, they both said “yes” & they were allowed in without having to present ID. Predictably, they were “grossed out” and didn’t hang around long.
I doubt they were surprised much at the content, there is plenty of pornography on the Internet, and some of the music videos they watch on Much Music are pretty sleazy. However the ease at which they entered did not impress me, and raised concerns about just how responsible these new store owners plan on being.
The zoning bylaws themselves are obviously in need of changing, so that may be a more effective way to address the problem. There are many acceptable locations for these types of businesses, and as a taxpayer I have the right and the responsibility to try and preserve the integrity of my neighbourhood. Most importantly, I want my daughters to feel safe and comfortable as they get off the bus and walk home. Perhaps my protests will not succeed this time, but staying quiet is not an option.
“Ten people who speak make more noise than ten thousand who are silent”
Debbie is a native Edmontonian, a single parent with four daughters. She has worked as a professional musician for most of her life, and has enjoyed a rich variety of life experiences – with many more to come! Debbie is working towards an eventual doctorate in psychology, and currently serves as the president of the Athabasca University Students’ Union.