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NEWPORT BEACH : Gift Shops Giving City a Headache

Andrea Marchetti, who runs a gift shop that just moved to the Balboa Fun Zone, says that her best customers can sometimes cause her the most harm.

“They start asking other businesses, ‘Where’s the Head Shop?’ ” said Marchetti, whose family operated such a shop in Huntington Beach for 15 years before moving to Balboa last weekend. “We don’t want that. I don’t know what else to do. We just want to be a gift shop.”

The term “head shop” was coined in the late 1960s to describe stores selling drug paraphernalia and counterculture merchandise.

The store’s move to the Fun Zone prompted the City Council to pass an urgency ordinance creating a moratorium on such shops when officials found out that the city had nothing on the books to regulate such a business.

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The state has laws pertaining to stores selling tobacco accessories, but city ordinances only covered adult bookstores and entertainment facilities. Before last week, there had been no restrictions placed on stores selling sexual gifts and gadgets.

“There was a crack in the system,” said city Revenue Manager Glen Everrod.

The council unanimously agreed to the 45-day moratorium on new businesses selling “marital aids,” a loosely defined term that refers to mostly adult-oriented sexual stimulants. Planners hope to draw up a new ordinance during the moratorium that will require such shops to obtain a special permit through the public hearing process or only operate in certain areas of the city.

“We just want to make sure we maintain the status quo,” said City Atty. Robert Burnham.

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Earlier this year, the City Council passed a ban on massage parlors after realizing that Newport Beach had more of those businesses than any city in Orange County. The city is now studying the effect that massage parlors may be having on the community, and plans to do the same for adult gift stores, said Burnham.

In the meantime, Marchetti and her sister have set up shop in the Fun Zone and say they are trying hard to win community approval.

They changed the name of the store from Things for Your Head to Things for You, and have altered their stock. The new store will not offer the array of sexual gifts and gadgets the Huntington Beach store carried, and a reduced supply of adult items and smoking accessories will be kept in two closets that are to be converted into adult-only sections.

“I think we did it a lot more tastefully,” said Marchetti, who moved the store from Huntington Beach because of fire damage. “There’s nothing here to offend anybody. . . . We want to fit in here.”

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The most eye-catching items in the cluttered, colorful store are the huge T-shirt selection and bright Guatemalan clothing and bags hanging in rows from the shop’s walls.

Glass display cases are stuffed with funky jewelry, incense sticks and Zippo lighters, but rolling papers and massage oils are at the back of the store. The adult goods area will also be in the back.

“We’re being cool,” said Marchetti. “A lot of kids are our clientele, and we don’t want to offend them.”

Members of homeowners groups living near the Fun Zone are watching the city’s actions carefully, saying they want to be assured that the shop and others won’t be selling offensive goods.

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“We’ve received complaints from residents and adjacent businesses and other concerned citizens about that kind of activity,” said Lt. Tim Newman, Police Department executive officer. “We are continuing to take a look at the business operations there. These people don’t want drug paraphernalia and things available in their community.”

City Councilman John Hedges, whose district includes the popular entertainment area, said he is comfortable with the shop’s current operations but will be keeping an eye on it.

“As far as I can tell, they’re selling T-shirts there,” said Hedges. “If a shop does start selling things that someone would not consider wholesome, then we would look into that. We’ll just have to wait and see, I guess.”


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