China Star Buffet on Mission Ave. has been vacant for over four years.
Q: What do you do if you want to open an adult business where it’s not permitted?
A: If you’re Larry Flynt’s attorney you simply proclaim you are not an adult business and hope no one notices.
“They are saying they aren’t an adult store? That’s great! I can see it now: Come and get your sex toys for the entire family,” jokes Drew Andrioff, a local businessman who comments frequently on Oceanside social media.
Interior of Romantix
The fact is on May 1, representatives from Larry Flynt Productions had a meeting with Oceanside officials about opening a Hollywood Hustler outlet in Oceanside. The other local Hollywood Hustler is in the Gaslamp at 929 Sixth Avenue. Now the Los Angeles-based company is hoping to open its second store in the county at a long vacant storefront in Oceanside at the intersection of I-5 and Mission Avenue.
Larry Flynt Productions drew up plans for a Hollywood Hustler at 1401 Mission Avenue in a circular building that is visible from I-5. For many years it was home to a coffee shop and most recently housed the China Star Buffet. It has been vacant for over four years.
One big problem for many local business owners concerned with Oceanside’s image is that the store would be located in such a prominent location, and that it would not help Oceanside shed its once gritty image. “We just got rid of the Main Attraction, and now we don’t want to replaced it with something worse,” says Linda Pina, co-owner of Eat Like a Local which hosts walking food tours promoting Oceanside cafes. “We’re trying to clean that area up.”
After more than 30 years on Coast Highway, the only topless bar in North County known as The Main Attraction is set be demolished to make way for a new residential/commercial development. There are no announced plans to reopen the Main Attraction anywhere else in Oceanside.
The Hollywood Hustler in San Diego sells sex toys, lingerie, lubricants as well as X-rated DVDs and magazines. Zoning laws in Oceanside and most cities would classify this as an adult-oriented business which would mean it would be a treated as a regulated business which needs special review and approvals. It would appear that opening a Hollywood Hustler in that proposed Mission Avenue location may be prohibited because of its closeness to Oceanside High and to another regulated business, the Ocean’s Eleven Casino.
The firm Lipsitz Green Scime Cambria represents Larry Flynt Productions. A letter from attorney Alex Basinski from that firm to the city of Oceanside said that “…We believe that our proposed use constitutes a general merchandise or variety store and should not be classified as an ‘Adult Business’…”
Employees at the San Diego Hollywood Hustler store referred all questions about current and future store operations to regional manager Jennifer Bonwell, who declined comment and said that all questions would need to be answered by the Flynt corporate office in Los Angeles. A call to those offices directed me to a Linda Goen who did not return phone calls.
Jack Feller has been an Oceanside City Councilman since 2000. He says he has no concerns about a Hollywood Hustler arriving at that location since he sees no way they can avoid being deemed as an adult business. He says since it was learned Main Attraction was leaving, “I thought we were heading down a different path. I was on the council when we paid $750,000 to get the [all-naked strip club] Playgirl to leave downtown.”
But Feller admits that a similar business to Hollywood Hustler called Romantix in downtown Oceanside on Pier View Way, is not a public nuisance. “I have not heard of any problems there.”
Rick Wright is the executive director of the business support group Mainstreet Oceanside which runs the family-oriented Sunset Market every Thursday evening in the streets of downtown Oceanside. That market has booths directly in front of Romantix. He says he appreciates that Romantix goes out of its way to maintain an understated facade. “That store is completely off the radar. I have heard of no issues…I believe we can peacefully co-exist.”
Speaking only for himself, Wright says he doubts Flynt’s Hollywood Hustler will arrive at the China Star location. “But they do have high-powered attorneys.” Wright recalled in the mid-80s when the now defunct F Street Bookstore adult chain opened an Escondido storefront resulting in locals picketing in front of the store and city officials complaining how bad F Street was for the community. “They fought to stay open and they won.” But F Street Escondido eventually closed in 2013 due to a decline in business led in part by the availability of internet porn.
Which makes one wonder if the demand for a new adult-oriented brick-and-mortar is even worth it for Larry Flynt Productions.
An employee named Tony who works at Romantix admits business has slowed down since the nearby Firewater Saloon was shuttered in September by California’s Alcohol Beverage Control, but he says it is still profitable. He said the business, formerly known as The Fun House and Midnight Adult Books, started flying under the radar when it changed its name to Romantix and ripped out the back-room video booths that played porn segments at 25-cents a pop. “The city made us take them out,” he says. Video rentals and sales are now, “…just ten per cent of our sales, if that,” says Tony.
Once the Main Attraction goes away, and if Hustler Hollywood does not open, Romantix will be Oceanside’s only adult-oriented storefront. There are none in adjacent Carlsbad and the Déjà Vu Love Boutique is the only one in Vista. Longtime locals will recall the Coronet News Stand on Coast Highway that maintained its adult magazine section for decades until it closed in 2003. Oceanside’s Sinsation store (similar to Romantix) has long since closed.
“If they opened [Hollywood Hustler on Mission Avenue] it would probably be the brunt of a lot of jokes,” says Shay Cooper, co-owner of the newly opened Steel Mill Coffee in downtown Oceanside. “But at the end of the day, I can’t say if I would be for or against it.”
City planning staff did not comment on what happened at their May 1 meeting with Larry Flynt Productions.