Broward News

In Fort Lauderdale, Sex Shops Get Creative to Avoid Restrictions

The name Booby Trap Love Stuff connotes a certain level of trashiness. Although it's shaped like a cottage and customers enter through castle-like wooden doors, they have to flash an ID before they can behold rows of phallic objects and feather boas.

But the Fort Lauderdale store, located 397 feet from a Poinciana Park swing set, isn't legally considered an "adult establishment." If it were, it would be too close to the playground under a Fort Lauderdale city ordinance that treats sex stores like sex offenders, requiring erotic shops to stay 500 feet away from parks, churches, schools, or residential areas.

Luckily, the Booby Trap Love Stuff has found a loophole to keep its prime real estate on SE 21st Street. Upstairs, customers can find tons of material that's far from erotic. At least 120 VHS tapes of an X-Men show sit collecting dust next to workout videos by Regis Philbin, a tutorial called How to Dry Foods, and a stack of Baby Mozart cassettes. The upper half of Booby Trap Love Stuff is like a parody of a garage sale; most of the items there are unlikely to ever sell. It's doubtful they could even give away — in a lifetime — the 374 copies of Christmas Classics: ­Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.

There's a simple reason: As long as adult material makes up less than 30 percent of displayed items, Fort Lauderdale doesn't consider a store to be "adult."

That doesn't fly in Miami, where stores proffering just one "adult object" get the dreaded D2 zoning category that relegates them to the outskirts of town, according to Vincent Rodriguez, a building specialist for the city. He also notes that this distinction between adult and family-friendly retail establishment didn't exist three years ago, as far as the city was concerned. Businesses that existed before the rules changed weren't forced to move.

At the Booby Trap Love Stuff, an employee named John who has worked at the store for ten years was quick to point out that his establishment isn't an adult store. Indeed — exterior neon signs advertise only the vague "VIDEO," which could mean anything, really. Lingerie doesn't count as an "adult item," John says, nor does lubricant.

As he puts it: "Basically anything that isn't shaped like a penis" is considered part of the nonadult merchandise. He estimates only about 20 percent of the items on display are considered erotic by the City of Fort Lauderdale.

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Allie Conti was a fellow at Miami New Times and a staff writer for New Times Broward-Palm Beach, where her writing won awards from the Florida Press Club and the Society of Professional Journalists. She's now the senior staff writer at Vice and a contributor to the New York Times, New York Magazine, and the Atlantic.