Adult store angers its new neighbors
Therapist sees conflict with nearby opening of modeling studio
A counselor who treats sex addicts says he will be forced to move his office if the city doesn't close an adult business that has just opened nearby.
The front door of Velvet Dreams, an adult lingerie modeling studio, is about 10 feet from the entrance of Steven DeLugach's office.
'My clients are very vulnerable. This is like making an alcoholic walk through a bar to receive treatment,' said DeLugach, a licensed mental health therapist whose office is at 2304 E. Burnside St., on the northern edge of the Buckman neighborhood.
DeLugach said he will move his office in 60 days if the city doesn't close Velvet Dreams, at 2250 E. Burnside St.
'I have to move if I'm going to maintain any integrity with my clients. It's not right that someone can interfere with my business like this,' DeLugach said.
Ruby Washington, owner of Velvet Dreams, said she isn't going away.
'I have a right to run a business that is legal, legitimate and profitable,' she said.
Although Washington didn't know she was moving next to a sex therapist, she said many people object to adult businesses on moral grounds.
'People are nervous about anything sexual,' she said.
Washington recently signed a one-year lease on the ground-floor space of the three-story apartment building. She has spent more than a month remodeling the split-level space to include two private rooms where customers can purchase private, live sex shows Ñ lingerie modeling, striptease acts and what she called 'reverse role-modeling' exhibitions.
Since Washington first hung the neon Velvet Dreams sign in the front window several weeks ago, DeLugach has rallied other nearby business owners to shut the business down.
Although DeLugach is most concerned about the potential effects on his clients, he and the other neighbors are upset that Velvet Dreams has opened directly across the street from a day-care center, within a few blocks of Central Catholic High School and near both professional offices and retail outlets.
'We've tried so hard to clean up this area, and now this,' complained one business owner who asked not to be identified.
In an attempt to pressure Washington not to open her business, nearby business owners have contacted Portland police, circulated a petition opposing Velvet Dreams and filed a complaint with the city's Bureau of Development Service charging that Washington did not obtain the proper remodeling permits.
Despite the opposition, however, Washington said that she not only plans to stay, but will soon turn the front half of her business into a retail store selling sex-related magazines and sex toys.
'I'm offended by the reaction. I feel they are violating my First Amendment rights,' said Washington, who said she is nothing more than a small-business owner, just like the neighbors who are protesting.
'I need to make a living,' she said. 'I have a family to support.'
'Someone has to act'
The dispute underlines a problem that local elected officials have grappled with for many years.
The Oregon Supreme Court has ruled consistently that the free speech provisions of the Oregon Constitution prevent cities from treating adult businesses differently from any other kind of business. As a result, the Portland City Council cannot restrict the location of adult businesses.
A recent Oregon Court of Appeals ruling opened the door to some forms of regulation, but it has been appealed to the Oregon Supreme Court and will not be resolved in time for the council to act on these neighbors' concerns.
'The Supreme Court doesn't really have a deadline on when it must make a decision,' said Michael Harrison, an aide to City Commissioner Jim Francesconi, who has asked the city attorney's office to research option for regulating adult businesses.
DeLugach said waiting for the Supreme Court is a cop-out. He plans to meet with about a dozen other local business and property owners to mount a campaign to force the city to confront the issue.
'Someone in the city has to act. As it is, they are in collusion with the pornographers to turn the city over to the sex industry,' he said.
DeLugach disagreed with the notion that adult businesses help people with sex problems.
'Maybe some adults can handle pornography as entertainment, but many people can't,' he said. 'Their lives are literally being destroyed by pornography.'
According to DeLugach, having to walk by Velvet Dreams to reach his office presents a serious problem to these people. 'It's like when an alcoholic falls off the wagon Ñ it starts with opening the bottle for the first drink,' he said.
DeLugach said his clients include both men and women, as well as couples trying to keep their marriages together.
'These are some of the brightest, most creative people on the planet. But they are so consumed by pornography that they can't keep appointments, they can't hold jobs, and their relationships are in tatters,' he said.
A business is born
After several weeks of remodeling, Velvet Dreams has the fresh-paint smell of any new business. Although the front windows are painted black, the interior is divided into a series of small, clean rooms. A front room holds a computer and business papers. Two back rooms contain couches, chairs and small stereos. Peepholes are drilled through their doors.
Washington said she has three women employees.
And she said that nothing illegal happens on her premises.
'With any application, I check the girl's ID and have them sign a form saying they've read all the laws against prostitution. I know that's illegal, and I don't want it here,' she said.
Instead, Washington said her services range from mere entertainment to therapeutic encounters for people with sexual dysfunctions who still desire intimate contact.
'It can be an alternative form of therapy. We have a number of repeat clients,' she said.
Washington, who was born and raised in Portland, said she is a certified paralegal and hopes eventually to become a lawyer.
'This is not a career for me,' Washington said of her ownership of Velvet Dreams. 'It's a financial bridge.'
Washington said she first began working in the adult industry about four years ago as a lingerie model at the original Velvet Dreams, at 9747 S.E. Powell St. She said she bought half the business two years ago and purchased the remaining half just before the landlord decided not to renew the lease.
She likes the new location because 'it's close to downtown, easy to find and is large enough for everything I want to do.'
She was not surprised by the reaction of the neighboring businesses. 'I knew this was going to happen,' she said.