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Christopher Bjorke, Grand Forks Herald , Published April 05 2012

Fantasy’s store owner tries to reassure Grand Forks opponents

FARGO - The Fantasy’s store here has been compared to an adult book and video store, a lingerie store and a risqué gift shop, but according to its owner, it is a niche business with a specific clientele.

“Our customers are female customers,” said Kim Patterson, owner of the store located in a strip mall at South 25th Street and Seventh Avenue South.

Patterson said her store caters to the sex lives of women and couples and presents itself as a friendlier alternative to more hard-core sex shops that she says are frequented by more unsavory customers.

“If we ever saw a creepy guy hanging out in front of the store, we’d call the cops,” she said.

The “creepy guy,” with an interest in pornography and perhaps predatory tendencies, is the figure critics say her store would attract to a residential neighborhood if Patterson opens a store in Grand Forks at 418 N. Washington St.

The new store, which would be on a busy commercial street but a block away from Winship Elementary School, has sparked a backlash among neighborhood residents and a draft city ordinance that would increase restrictions on sexually-oriented businesses.

Different store

Patterson said her business does not bring anything new to town.

Around 85 percent of her sales are for the lingerie, jewelry and accessories she displays in the front of her store, so it is no more threatening than Victoria’s Secret.

About 8 percent of her sales are from items including sex toys, which are available at Spencer’s Gifts, another mall store.

Her front windows feature mannequins in lingerie, and Patterson is careful to cover their tops and bottoms, she said.

“The displays at Victoria’s Secret are more risqué than what I have in the front of my store,” she said.

The comparison with Victoria’s Secret and Spencer’s Gifts are accurate in part. The national lingerie chain store does prominently display photos of models in underwear but does not sell other sexual items available at Fantasy’s. Spencer’s sells sex toys, lubricants and bondage items but they are a small part of its inventory of gag gifts and caps and T-shirts. Neither store has as strong of a sexual theme as Fantasy’s.

Fantasy’s in Fargo has a large front section displaying lingerie, costumes and bachelor and bachelorette party favors. There is a smaller back room, off-limits to anyone younger than 18, displaying DVDs, sexual devices, bondage items and blow-up dolls.

The DVDs range from educational films to hard-core content, Patterson said.

The devices include anatomically explicit toys and objects of a range of shapes and uses.

The front of the store does not shy away from sex. It displays condoms, lubricants, adult magazines, male enhancement products and sex-themed novelty and gift items in addition to lingerie.

Sexual element

Some of the opponents of a Fantasy’s store in Grand Forks have said it would attract sexual predators to the neighborhood and the presence of a sexually-oriented business could lead someone to commit a sex crime. Some who spoke on the issue at a City Council meeting this week cited serial killer Ted Bundy and Dru Sjodin killer Alfonso Rodriguez.

Links between exposure to sexual material and behavior are controversial.

UND Assistant Professor of Psychology April Bradley said there “is no research to indicate that sex offenders spend any more time than anyone else at adult bookstores, adult sex toy stores or an adult lingerie store.”

Patterson chose her type of business because she saw a need in town. She started the store nine years ago after an attempt to buy a floral shop fell through.

“I sat down and thought, ‘What does Fargo need that it doesn’t have?’ This is what I came up with,” she said. “Sex is natural, and everybody does it.”

Patterson wanted a business that was about sex and romance but without the more overtly pornographic atmosphere of a store such as Romantix, which have locations in downtown Grand Forks and Fargo.

“I have been there, and it’s creepy. You feel like old men are staring at you,” said Sarah Fadness, a Fantasy’s employee. All but one of Patterson’s employees — her 19-year-old son — are women. About 80 percent of her customers are women, and male customers are usually there to buy gifts for wives or girlfriends.

A message left with Romantix corporate offices in Denver was not returned.

Local reaction

Patterson did not expect the reaction from Grand Forks residents. She said she has had no complaints about her Fargo store, located within blocks of a day care center. She thought she had the OK to open until residents began demanding it open elsewhere.

“What they should’ve said is, ‘You can pick anywhere except near a school,’ but they didn’t,” she said.

Now that she has invested money and entered a five-year lease, she is willing to sue if the city enacts an ordinance that would stop the opening.

“If they pass it with no changes, there will be a lawsuit,” she said. “My plan is to open.”

Patterson said those trying to stop the store have not visited it and want to portray it as something it is not, she said.

“If you’re that concerned, come to the store and do your due diligence,” she said. “Come to this store and go to Romantix. You’ll see the difference.”