Does sex sell in Towson?

April 22, 1993

In the case of The Love Ones -- the Towson lingerie shop whose storefront display of leather-clad, whip-wielding mannequins alarmed some of the locals -- it would be easy to deride the offended residents and business people as uptight prudes.

Oh, those silly, hypocritical suburbanites! They get all pink-faced at the slightest suggestion of s-e-x. No sex please, we're Towsonites.

The locals' level of uneasiness with the shop, in fact, makes us a little uneasy. While The Love Ones isn't the sort of operation often found in the 'burbs, it's hardly a Blockesque porn-o-rama beckoning impressionable youths (and adults) with garish neon and flashing red lights.

Still, we believe the voice of the community should prevail when a business or some other endeavor is deemed to violate established local standards and values -- as long as that voice speaks with reason and fairness. That's how democracy is supposed to work. We wonder, though, how representative of the community are the objections raised by the handful of residents and merchants? And how reasonable?

The Towson Business Association's public statements about the shop have ranged from the sublime to the asinine. In the latter category, there's the businessman who sounded downright gloomy that he lacked the time and energy to videotape customers entering The Love Ones.

More diplomatic members of the TBA have proposed sending a letter inviting The Love Ones owner Frank Billitz to join the merchants' group. This is a wise approach. Face-to-face communication among area business leaders offers them the best chance to air and settle disagreements over the proper business posture for Towson.

Mr. Billitz is described by his landlords as a good tenant and, to his credit, he has shown himself willing to accommodate local concerns. For example, he recently gave his three storefront mannequins a make-over, replacing their hot lingerie with cool beach wear. That should placate those people who got embarrassed whenever they walked by the window. But might they still feel that the store itself has no place on Towson's main drag?

If a clear majority of the community could agree on that point, then the case might be made that The Love Ones doesn't belong. To date, however, no such consensus has emerged. Until one does, this perfectly legal and legitimate operation should be left alone. And everyone else should mind his or her own business.

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