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MVC Defends its Honor

Meanwhile, county investigates its regulation options

John Kenney, general manager of all the Virginia MVC stores, says not only does his business provide something the community wants, but the law is on his side.

HE CITED a ruling handed down last Thursday, Jan. 20, in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania. In it, Judge Gary Lancaster ruled that federal obscenity statutes are unconstitutional.

"That means the government cannot enforce any laws based on morality," said Kenney. So in Fairfax County, he said, "They can legislate the land use, but not the adult use."

He's also offended by county officials continuing to portray his newest store, MVC Latenight DVD in Centreville, as "something negative." And he said he'd challenge local Supervisor Michael R. Frey (R-Sully) to a debate on the matter.

"This stuff is constitutionally protected," said Kenney. "Years ago, [Supervisor] Elaine McConnell [R-Springfield] took us to court in Fairfax County, and the jurors found us not guilty of obscenity. It's because obscenity is up to the individual, and a community can't decide that."

Furthermore, he said, "Whatever an adult wants to watch in the privacy of his own home is his right. You can't tell us we can't make it, watch it or sell it."

Nonetheless, complaints from residents angry about MVC's prominent, in-your-face store at the Routes 28/29 crossroads of Centreville have aroused the Board of Supervisors' interest and concern. The Supervisors are now determined to take a hard look at their legal options regarding adult businesses in the county.

Things climaxed Monday, during the regular board meeting, when Board Chairman Gerry Connolly (D), made a motion about this issue. Noting the recently opened Centreville MVC near a Historic District and a child-care facility, he said the public has voiced its objections, loud and clear.

"Since the opening of this establishment, my office has received correspondence from constituents from all parts of Fairfax County urging the Board of Supervisors to further define what constitutes an adult business based on the products they sell or rent," he said. Furthermore, continued Connolly, these residents have implored the Board to "place tighter restrictions on where such businesses may operate."

AS A RESULT, he moved that the Board direct the county executive, county attorney and relevant county staff to investigate the citizens' requests and report on the Board's options concerning further regulation of these businesses. His motion passed.

But, said a defiant Kenney, "Whenever they start considering it, we'll be right there with our attorneys. They want to put us somewhere where people wouldn't come to us and stop the flow of free speech. We've challenged [the government] in Prince William County and won, and we'll do the same in Fairfax."

And as a matter of fact, said Kenney, "Sales [at the Centreville MVC] are excellent. It's one of the fastest-growing stores we've ever had — and our customers are coming from the Centreville/Chantilly area."

He said that store isn't the first in the area to sell adult videos, and he noted one on Route 29 in Fairfax that's been doing so for 20 years. Regarding the Centreville MVC's location, he said, "We tried to rent the parcel where the Nextel store is, near the 7-Eleven, but they wouldn't do it because of [what we sell. So we didn't start out by trying to locate this in the heart of Centreville."

Kenney said MVC has five-year leases with consecutive options — "and we're not going anywhere." Besides that, he said MVC's currently negotiating with property owner Abe Babazadeh to buy the corner — including the property next door. "But anybody else can make that purchase, too," he said.

He holds his head up high, proud of what his store has to offer. The long and short of it, said Kenney, is that "we provide a community service and a safe environment for people to purchase goods and enjoy them in the privacy of their own homes."

Still, he feels unfairly picked on, and he pointed a finger at other county businesses. "Could you legislate how much murder Blockbuster could have in its videos?" he asked. "When Blockbuster sells [or rents] movies rated R or X for violence, or video games rated 'mature,' they're adult."

"IT'S A DEBATE he can have with lots of psychologists and police," countered Frey. "I'm not gonna debate him on it."

Kenney next took on cable TV. "The largest pornographer in Fairfax County is Cox Communications," he said. "They put on adult programming every day of the week, and kids can have access to it. And on pay-per-view, they show full penetration."

Generally speaking, said Alex Horwitz, Cox Northern Virginia spokesman, Cox serves about 260,000 customers in Fairfax County. "We have programming for a variety of consumers," he explained. "This includes adult programming. It's Cox' job to try to meet the needs of our diverse customer base." But he said Cox created parental-control devices on its cable service requiring a pin number to purchase adult programs to prevent underage children from doing so.

"When they advertise KY Jelly, Levitra or Viagra on TV, what do parents tell their kids they're for?" asked Kenney. "Personal lubricants are available in grocery stores, and CVS sells condoms. So we don't like to be treated different than anyone else. We have great prices and fill a need in the community." So it's upsetting, he said, "when people [brand] us with a scarlet letter."

"The Christian Right has tried to put us out of business for 15 years," said Kenney. "But we've always been honest, open and up-front about what we do."

Meanwhile, Frey said the federal court ruling may not apply here since this county's in a different circuit court district. Besides, he said, "There's a difference between that and what I'm trying to do. Courts have always said you can't prohibit adult materials, unless you can prove they're obscene and violate community standards — and that's extremely difficult to prove in court."

Frey said he's trying to regulate, not prohibit, adult businesses. And, he added, "There's a clear difference between adult videos and the family-planning section of the local Giant. Clearly, [Kenney's] trying to deflect the arguments against him, but he is not like everybody else."

While noting it wouldn't "pass muster" to put retail, adult businesses in industrial areas where customers wouldn't come, he said the county attorney will investigate "what the Supreme Court says we can do about regulating adult uses."