Supporters of Tokyo Valentino rallied at Atlanta City Hall on Monday as the Cheshire Bridge Road "adult superstore" appeals a federal court ruling that it violates the city's adult entertainment ordinance.
The appeal to the 11th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals follows a Jan. 4 ruling from federal Judge Thomas Thrash, Jr., who said Tokyo Valentino has been in violation of city ordinances since it opened in 1998. Thrash also issued an injunction prohibiting the store from operating an adult mini-motion picture theater, adult bookstore or adult entertainment business, according to the Daily Report.
Michael Morrison, the store's founder and CEO, took issue with the court ruling.
“It’s been 20 years and they have had every chance to address that. I think the decision is unfair and incorrect,” Morrison told Project Q Atlanta.
The ordinance Thrash said the store violates prohibits adult businesses from operating within 500 feet of a residential area.
The appeal is the latest salvo in a fight that traces to Tokyo Valentino's origin. A Fulton County Superior Court judge in 1998 ruled against the city in its move to deny a permit for the business.
All was quiet between both parties until 2014, when Inserection renovated and rebranded into Tokyo Valentino. The permit application prompted the city to rule that the business's video booths were a code violation and needed to be removed.
Tokyo Valentino sued the city and its zoning board in 2015, claiming the ordinance was a violation of its Fourth Amendment rights. The city countersued, and both parties moved for summary judgement.
In January, Thrash denied the store’s constitutional claims. The judge said Tokyo Valentino had the chance to make that challenge during prior litigation between the two parties, which was resolved.
“More specifically, if the plaintiffs could have challenged the constitutionality of the same definitions of three types of adult businesses back then that they do now … then their challenges must fail,” Thrash said, according to The Daily Report.
Thrash also denied the store’s free speech claims, saying the city ordinance does “not ban outright any adult businesses but merely restricts where they may be located.”
Tokyo Valentino's attorneys filed the appeal in February.
'It should be shut today'
Chris Coleman, who handles marketing and public relations for Tokyo Valentino, created a group called Gay Georgia in early 2018. The organization says its mission is to protect LGBTQ-friendly businesses in the state, and it also does event promotion.
Gay Georgia, also known as GAGA, is planning events during Atlanta Pride, New Year’s Eve and Memorial Day in 2019.
But its current focus is rallying support for Tokyo Valentino. The group drew about 40 people to an Atlanta City Council meeting on Monday to speak out against the business's closure.
Coleman acknowledged that the issue is being decided in court and that the city council isn't involved. But he said GAGA brought people to the meeting to spotlight what’s happening.
“I think the fact that a very diverse group of people from our community was representing Gay Georgia was outstanding,” Coleman told Project Q. “I thought the words that were expressed in the chamber were exactly what Gay Georgia is pursuing.”
GAGA President Marci Alt also attended the city council meeting.
“We have numbers,” Alt said. “When you have numbers, you actually get listened to.”
Atlanta City Councilmember Jennifer Ide, who represents District 6 and the area that includes Tokyo Valentino, said the courts made the issue clear.
“The owners of the store brought the federal lawsuit, and the judge has issued a ruling that says that the owners can no longer operate an adult mini-motion picture theater, operate an adult entertainment establishment and operate an adult bookstore in that location,” Ide said. “Thus, it should be shut today, but the city has not enforced the judge's order while it is on appeal.”
Ide also noted that the litigation was initiated by Tokyo Valentino and was filed before she took office.
“This case should not be viewed as a threat to any other adult entertainment establishments, or mini-motion picture theaters that are operating with a valid business license in a properly zoned location,” she said. “City Council is not considering any new zoning legislation with regard to adult entertainment.”
Morrison said the spa area of the business will not close regardless of the court case, but it would be “a different rendition.”
"With the store, we may have to reduce the adult license to 20 percent instead of a full adult license,” he said. “What is the city really accomplishing at the end of the day?”
“This is really a ‘not in my backyard’ problem. The problem is we’re not in Morningside‘s backyard, they’re in mine,” he added.
We reached out to the city attorney’s office for comment and will update this story if they reply.
UPDATE | A spokesperson for Mayor Keisha Keisha Lance Bottoms responded to Project Q Atlanta after this story was published and said the city is not targeting any community in the ongoing legal battle. They also said the city could ask a judge to hold Tokyo Valentino in contempt for failing to abide by an order to cease all illegal use.
Tokyo Valentino (aka Cheshire Bridge Holdings, LLC) was sued by the City in Federal District Court more than two years ago, after the City took zoning enforcement action against the operation; a case which the City won. As the District Court orders show, Tokyo Valentino’s business has been deemed illegal since its inception — dating back to the 1990s — and has illegally expanded through the years. Despite the District Court's order to cease all illegal use immediately, Tokyo Valentino has defied that order — an order which has not been superseded by their appeal to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals. Currently, we have chosen not to seek further enforcement on the order given the ongoing appeal. However, we maintain the right at any point to go before the District Court and seek contempt for failure to abide the order. To date, we have seen nothing from this illegal establishment but concerted efforts to avoid responsibility for their unlawful actions and obfuscate the facts of the matter to the public and elected officials. Atlanta is entitled to enforce its ordinances in protection of public health, safety and welfare. Contrary to what the owner says, the City of Atlanta is not targeting any community. This is the only adult entertainment litigation in which Atlanta is engaged and it is well-justified given the proven, ongoing violation of the City’s zoning ordinance and the federal court’s orders.