Beltsville residents rally to shut down adult video store
Some claim to have seen prostitution and drug dealing
A group of Beltsville residents is calling for the closure of the Wholesale Lingerie and Gift Center on Route 1 in Beltsville, claiming the store violates zoning ordinances and allows prostitutes and drug dealers to operate out of its parking lot.
A Beltsville resident who asked that her name not be used for fear of retaliation said she often sees patrons of the store in her yard.
"They use my yard as a bathroom," she said. "They use it for sex. … They leave their shoes, underwear and sex toys. My yard man cleans [condoms] up every time he works on my yard. Beer bottles, whiskey bottles, stuff like that."
Store management did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
The store advertises DVD's and private viewing booths on signs outside the store, and sells sex toys, lingerie and DVDs.
The Maryland Coalition Against Pornography held a protest Saturday on Harford Avenue against the store. Approximately 30 Beltsville residents and MCAP members attended.
Beltsville resident Leda Rodriguez was at the protest and said residents need to take action or they are essentially condoning the store's presence.
"I have a teenage son and daughter," she said. "It's hard to explain to your kids that these are bad things but our society and community doesn't care about it. We had a lot of people driving by giving us the thumbs up [at the protest]."
MCAP member Peggy Cairns said she hopes the protest gets the attention of the community and Prince George's County officials.
"We hope we can wake up police and legislators and wake up the community to please stop patronizing this store," she said.
The Harford Avenue resident said she also sees drug dealing in the store's parking lot.
"Cars with New York tags come up here and park in the parking lot [across the street]," she said. "They don't stay there very long, but you know it's drugs that's going on."
She said people will exit their vehicles across the street and go up to a car in the store's lot, then turn around and leave minutes later.
The resident also complained of patrons parking on her block.
"They park up here in the residential area because they don't want people to know they're going down there," she said. "They think they're hiding something but you see a guy walking around with fingernail polish and a wig, you know there's something wrong."
Cpl. Kevin Carter of the Prince George's County Police Department said they have received calls about prostitution and drug activity at the building, but have not found any concrete evidence of it.
"We've had some special assignment units checking the area," he said. "We've been trying to do some surveillance. We constantly try to search the area with some officers that are undercover. As soon as we get calls, we start to beef up patrols along with the regular routine."
Carter said they have not received any calls about the store in the past four or five months.
County zoning ordinance 27-903 requires all certified nonconforming adult book stores to be located at least 1,000 feet from any property in a residential zone.
According to Google Maps, there are houses on both Hartford Avenue and Queen Anne's Avenue that are within 1,000 feet of the store.
County law also requires that the hours of operation of the adult book store should not extend beyond 12:00 a.m. and should not begin before 9:00 a.m. However, Wholesale Lingerie is open 24 hours a day.
County Councilman Thomas E. Dernoga (D-Dist. 1) of Laurel said the County Council has attempted to enforce that ordinance, but in 1995, the Supreme Court upheld a ruling by the Fourth Circuit Court that the ordinance is in violation of free speech and the first amendment.
"It's a convoluted, long and tricky history," Dernoga said. "The store has had county attention for a while. I get a lot of complaints from citizens."
Dernoga said he also has heard complaints about prostitution and drugs.
The Harford Avenue resident said the store's presence brings down the neighborhood.
"We got little kids in the neighborhood," she said. "It's just not suitable for any neighborhood. It should be out in an industrial area where there's not anybody around, especially kids."
E-mail Jonah Schuman at firstname.lastname@example.org