While visiting my old haunt in Hastings Tuesday, I stumbled on to a memory that to this day I thought was astonishing. It was probably about 25 years ago that the downtown was invaded by an adult video and book store.
Of course, the news was greeted with apoplectic astonishment, particularly from the many Christian folks who lived in town when they found out there was nothing illegal about the presence of this business.
Some Christian activists began making serious plans to protest and raise a ruckus, hoping the proprietors eventually would pack their bags and go elsewhere.
But there was another approach to this issue that indeed turned out to be more favorable to the local guardians of morality — do absolutely nothing and hope the lack of publicity leads to the unwelcome business dying on the vine.
I learned from one of the J-Ad Graphics advertising representatives that the owners of the store welcomed Christian activists protesting because it was very simply free publicity. Negative publicity, they maintained, was far better than no publicity.
So somehow the Christian activists chose to take the quieter approach by ignoring the store and any of its patrons. Then came the news a few months later that the store went belly up and its owners and employees packed up and left in the dead of night.
While there was great rejoicing. I wondered if the silent treatment really had been the solution to the problem.
During my career as a community journalist, the issues revolving around unasked for arrivals of naughty bookstores and video stores have surfaced on several occasions.
When I was on the staff at the Albion Evening Recorder, a six-day daily newspaper, the owners of the ancient Bohm Theatre downtown decided they couldn’t keep the business afloat unless they served up the naughty stuff. Their first effort was the famous “Deep Throat,” starring Linda Lovelace.
I’ll never forget the hordes of Christian activists screaming at people they knew standing in line to lay down their money and watch. A fellow staffer, a woman in her 40s, acknowledged she and her husband took in the flick because she had never seen one before and wanted to decide for herself if was bad for the viewer. She told me it was trashy, overridden by poor acting and lacking in any kind of plot. But she said she was glad to have the experience, which told her to avoid such movies in the future.
Then came Fuzzy’s in Wayland a little more than 25 years ago. The video store offered lots of VHS films, some of which were soft-core porn. But then the owner decided to change the format and make it all-adult fare with the insistence that everyone who entered be photographed and thoroughly checked.
Leighton Township Supervisor Dar VanderArk, his board comrades and sheriff’s authorities immediately began making plans to fight Fuzzy’s new look in the political, legal and zoning arenas.
What they didn’t seem to understand was that the new format alone was enough to chase away potential customers who wanted anonymity. There was a lot wailing and gnashing of teeth, and the ultimate result was that Fuzzy’s failed, new format and all.
The last time I encountered this issue was in Ionia County when a candidate for office proudly announced that there was no zoning there because it was a communist plot. But because there was no zoning, he and his government colleagues could not stop the presence of a massage parlor where one Barry County Commissioner said there were more than a few “happy endings.”
I suppose the problem is not as widespread as it once was because free porn abounds on the Internet, though those who partake often are hounded by savvy on-line watchers who try to sell them such wares with spam and phony videos of would-be hookups.
Nonetheless, every time my wife and I make our trek to Colorado, I can’t help but notice the sin strip on I-94 from east of Gary, Ind., to Chicago, which is dominated by billboards advertising for attorneys, fireworks and porn shops.
Just like the drug trade, as long as there are people who want this stuff that isn’t good for us, there always will be somebody who will provide it — for a price.