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March 29, 2017

Another Gwinnett County Store Wages Fight To Stay Open

GWINNETT COUNTY, Ga.—Local businessman Michael Morrison has guts—no one is about to deny him that—and it's that gutsiness that's put him squarely in the crosshairs of Gwinnett County officials, who've been trying their damnedest since 2015 to shut down Morrison's tobacco, lingerie and novelty store, the interestingly named Tokyo Valentino, located on Pleasant Hill Road near the Gwinnett Place Mall. But Morrison, with the help of his attorney Cary S. Wiggins, is fighting back, and Monday, he scored a victory of sorts in federal court—but the fight is far from over. Morrison opened Tokyo Valentino in early June, 2015, and almost immediately, it caught the attention of local bluenoses who were upset because, besides the wide collection of pipes, bongs, hookahs, stillettos, nightgowns, teddies, party supplies and incense, the store also stocks a few adult magazines, dildos, vibrators, lube and a variety of fetishware, many of which have their packaging adorned with sexy artwork—but in keeping with local zoning ordinances, that material occupied less than 10 square feet of floor space. "We don’t sell enough in our stock and trade to be an adult store," Morrison told Sandra Parrish of local radio station WSB at the time. "Back in the day, we sold so much more with the DVDs and the adult viewing booths; this is just a retail store that just has some adult toys in it." The county, of course, didn't see it that way, claiming that the sale of sex toys caused the store to be considered "adult" and moved to shut Tokyo Valentino down under its restrictive anti-adult zoning. Morrison promptly sued in federal court to stay open, and that's the suit that U.S. District Judge Thomas W. Thrash Jr. dismissed on Monday. "Because Tokyo Valentino has not demonstrated that its alleged injury is redressable, or that it even suffered any actual harm as a result of the old regulations, its claims must be dismissed," Judge Thrash wrote in his 18-page ruling. But Morrison and Wiggins consider that dismissal a victory, because their real fight is against Gwinnett's revised zoning ordinance, which among other things prohibits adult businesses from locating near the Mall—and the suit the county filed against the store in July, 2016 based on the new language which, among other things, prohibits any store selling "sexual devices" from operating anywhere outside a "manufacturing zone." "I am disappointed that the county has chosen to sue a business which has pleaded with the county for constructive advice on how to advertise, display and sell marital-aid devices so as not to offend the county," Wiggins told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The county's case was put on hold while the 11th Circuit considered the appeal in the earlier suit Morrison had filed, but with that now dismissed, Gwinnett's case can go forward—but there may be a stumbling block there: One of the attorneys representing the county is the infamous Scott D. Bergthold, anti-adult ordinance writer and defender who's already cost the county plenty in legal fees defending it against suits filed by retailer Starship Enterprises, and the county's insurer is reportedly balking at spending any more money on this type of litigation. But as of Monday, the county had yet to decide what it was going to do with its case, and Wiggins told the Journal-Constitution that he and his legal team were "reviewing [Judge Thrash's] order and exploring options."

 
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