Saved by a loophole

Our view: Howard County porn shop is legal, but it's still a blight

August 22, 2008

Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani was hailed as The Man after he cleaned up New York's Times Square by chasing out the seedy adult bookstores and X-rated theaters that blighted the area.

But even Rudy might have been stumped by the Pack Shack, a Howard County smut shop that authorities have been trying to get rid of for years, and that keeps popping back like a Whack-a-Mole.

The Pack Shack has thwarted every effort to shut it down. No one even knows who owns it. It's been to business development along Route 40 near Ellicott City what crab grass is to a golf green.

The latest assault on this embarrassment involved pelting it with zoning ordinances that define adult stores as devoting at least 20 percent of their space and 20 percent of their stock to sexual materials. The Pack Shack was chock-a-block with the stuff, so the zoning gambit seemed like an easy win for the county.

But the store's owners, whoever they are, struck back by finding a loophole wide enough to drive a truckload of porn through. They filled every spare inch of the building's basement and entrance with inoffensive used paperback books, T-shirts and the like. The smut's still there, brazen as ever, but it's swamped by the sheer volume of other junk, allowing the store to evade the 20 percent rule on a narrow technicality.

Let no one mistake this outcome as a blow against censorship, as the attorney representing Pack Shack had the gall to suggest Wednesday. It's the unrepentant gloating of a vile commerce that degrades women and poisons the minds of everyone exposed to it. And it's all perfectly legal.

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