Ann Arbor City Council is yet again trying to dictate the activities of downtown businesses. After closing The Fifth Quarter and attempting to close Dream Nite Club, City Council is taking an even more controlling stance by forcing a soon to be opened store, Bongs and Thongs, to alter the merchandise it plans on selling. In an attempt to make the store’s products more “community-friendly,” City Council is citing an obscure ordinance that limits the sale of sexual paraphernalia. City Council should not micromanage store inventories, especially if they are following legitimate laws, and it shouldn’t dig up age-old ordinances to impede stores that carry merchandise it doesn’t like. This outdated law should be abandoned and Bongs and Thongs should be able to open without any merchandise restrictions.
Bongs and Thongs is not engaging in anything illegal. City Council is condemning the store before its doors have even opened, forcing a store to change its inventory. Ann Arbor should allow stores to exist, regardless of how outlandish or socially controversial their products may be. If purchasing thongs were illegal, or if the store were causing crime rates to increase, City Council might have had a more legitimate case against the store. In reality, however, the city is blocking the new business not because of serious legal issues, but rather due to its easily offended sensibilities.
The law that the city is citing was created in 1978 and limited the sale of genital-like objects and sexually stimulating products to less than 20 percent of merchandise. There are many old ordinances that the city could invoke to prevent all kinds of different activities, but do not because they are largely vestigial or utterly obsolete, such as an ordinance that prevents bowling between 12:00 a.m. and 7:00 a.m. The law being cited to dictate merchandise sales at Bongs and Thongs is completely arbitrary and doesn’t reflect any current state or federal law. The City Council should not block the opening of a store that does not violate any legitimate statute.
Worse than the citation of outdated ordinances, though, is that store owner Kilo Hassan is up against the close-mindedness of a city that usually has an open mind. In this case, the law is simply being used as an excuse to get rid of a store that sells cultural oddities. While there may be some valid concerns about the opening of a marijuana-friendly, sexuality-enhancing store in downtown Ann Arbor, the real problem seems to be that people are simply uncomfortable being around such a store. The U.S. prides itself on having free enterprise, and it is Hassan’s right to run a business, provided the products sold are legal. If this store is going to be a bane to Ann Arbor, people can avoid it and it will go out of business. If it does well, then it proves that the citizens of this town actually welcome a store that provides recreation rather than preserving cultural taboos. City Council should not act as cultural police and should allow Bongs and Thongs to stock its shelves the way Hassan wants them to be filled. It should be the job of the market, not City Council, to determine if Ann Arbor has too many dildos.