Though Ann Arbor may be known as a liberal city, a new retailer has found that its inventory isn’t receiving as warm a welcome as anticipated.
Kilo Hassan and Steve Abouna, owners of the store Bongz and Thongz on East Liberty Street, are facing difficulties because of a city ordinance that outlaws the mass sale of sex toys in the downtown area. Hassan and Abouna planned to sell water pipes and sex toys at their new store, which officially opened for business on Sept. 10.
Hassan said he was unaware of the regulation while planning his business, which was supposed to open in July, according to an Aug. 1 Ann Arbor.com article. The oversight has resulted in Bongz and Thongz having approximately $12,000 worth of unsellable inventory.
Hassan said he and Abouna discovered the problem when they applied for an occupancy license. They were required to provide the city with an invoice of purchases for the store and were consequently told that their inventory could not be sold in the downtown area.
“The reason we didn’t research this stuff is there are other stores in the area that sell basically the same thing,” Hassan said. “It was bad judgment on our part, but I guess we can fix that.”
Under the ordinance, the sale of “devices designed for sexual stimulation” cannot account for more than 20 percent of a business’s total sales. Because of this stipulation, Hassan said he promised the city he would not stock any sex toys at his store. Instead, he is planning to sell the items he already purchased through an online store he is creating for Bongz and Thongz.
“(We’re selling) just lingerie, costumes and accessories that don’t have anything to do with genitalia,” said Hassan, describing his new in-store inventory.
City Council member Sabra Briere (D–Ward 1) said the ordinance is “a major part of downtown planning,” and the city is unlikely to overturn it.
“I think the problem is not the city — it’s the business model,” Briere said. “The people who decided that this was what they wanted to open did not check the city’s ordinances about what was allowed.”
City Council member Christopher Taylor (D–Ward 3) said changing the city’s zoning ordinance is a “relatively long” process, and Bongz and Thongz will probably never be able to return to its original business plan.
“I have no reason to think that the ordinance is anything but good for the city,” Taylor said. “I don’t think Bongz and Thongz is good for the downtown.”
Despite difficulties with the city, Hassan said his and Abouna’s business has been fairly successful in its first week. He plans to fill the downstairs area of the store — the space originally intended for sex toy sales — with Halloween costumes for the upcoming holiday and expects business will continue to improve.