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Sex shop startup causes stir with racy display

PEMBROKE - A yet-to-open shop in Suncook village has turned heads, drawn confusion, amusement and outrage, and now possibly even legal action.

A display rolled out last week with scantily-dressed mannequins announcing who's moving into the first floor of 145 Main Street: a sex shop.

The store is Trevor's Toybox, set to open April 1, according to a February Facebook post. The store's sign and window display appeared March 13.

A graphic window display has since been tamed, the shop's neighbors say.

Pembroke residents and business owners took issue with the shop at the town's March 18 selectmen meeting, where they described the shop as out of "character" with the area, Pembroke's historic business district.

The following day, the town's code enforcement officer, Everett Hodge, issued a notice to the property and business owner, Larry Preston, a former selectman, alleging several violations of town ordinances and regulations.

It gave him until 9 a.m. today to remove "sexual paraphernalia" from the display. Failing this, the town says it will pursue legal action.

This action could include an injunction, as well as fines and penalties up to $270 for the first day of noncompliance and $550 for every subsequent day. Should the paraphernalia be removed, Preston will be required to reply for a "major site plan" through the planning board (as the building was formerly classified as office space), and also for change of use approval through the zoning board, a building permit and an occupancy permit.

Preston could not be reached for comment. A phone number listed on application documents, the same as that which is listed for Preston's real estate company, lead to a voice mail for Trevor Cole. The store appeared to be empty Thursday afternoon.

A Certificate of Formation filed with the Secretary of State's office Jan. 8 and signed by Preston, however, identifies the primary nature and purpose of the business as "retail sales - adult toys."

Pembroke residents and Main Street patrons were somewhat split on the issue, though most agreed that while they had no problem with the shop in principle, they found its location on Main Street unfortunate.

"The shop itself does not bother me," Gary Wells. "Of course, I've seen shops like this before, but the locale, the location is not the best. You know, there's a lot of kids around. It doesn't belong on Main Street."

Others, however, said that whether or not they had any interest in the shop themselves, the business had a right to be there.

"I guess if it's your thing, it's OK," said Mike Cotton. "I don't know anything about it except for what I'm seeing, and I can tell you it's not my thing. But it's America. It's free, you can what you want. And it's well enough hidden."

Town Planner Stephanie Verdile said the town had not seen the certificate of formation submitted to the Secretary of State's office, noting that the town is not immediately privy to such documents. Given this, and that neither Preston nor Cole had come before any of the town boards to discuss the use, the shop appears to have caught the town off guard.

When asked if it was incumbent upon the business owners to square such issues with the town before opening, Verdile gave a qualified yes.

"I believe I would expect that if I'm business owner looking to move into a town I would check to make sure I'm in compliance with that town's regulations," she said.

"Coming to town, however, with municipal planning, and zoning, and building, it's hard to make it so that everyone is 100 percent aware of what's expected of them. Sometimes they come to the town they come to the town and we walk them through the process, and there are companies that don't. They just move in, and a lot of times municipalities are playing catch-up."

Pembroke's town ordinances allow "live" and "passive" adult entertainment (e.g. strip clubs and sex shops, respectively) in lots north of town by Ricker Road. In another district, by Route 106 and Commerce Way, passive adult entertainment is allowed, should exceptions be granted.

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