- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 18, 2007

D.C. residents protested last night outside a downtown video store to call attention to it operating illegally for more than 10 years and the city’s slow response to closing it.

“It’s something that’s been brewing for over a decade,” said Cary Silverman, president of the Mount Vernon Square Neighborhood Association. “We’ve decided that the only way to get the attention we need is to have a rally.”

According to city records and court documents, Fun Fair Video — in the 900 block of Fifth Street Northwest — has been operating as a sexually oriented business since 1996, despite not having a license and losing several legal challenges to get one.

Area residents and police say the store attracts drug dealers and prostitutes.

Demetri and Simone Yatrakis, who live a few blocks from the store, said they have seen prostitutes take their customers into the alley behind their home and that they have tried to resolve the problem themselves.

“We put up lights and fences, and they tore the lights down,” Mrs. Yatrakis said. “We put a strobe light up, and they tore that down, too.”

They were joined by about 30 other protesters.

City records show the store’s legal battles also have involved numerous city agencies.

In 1997, the D.C. Board of Zoning Adjustment denied an application by the store’s ownership, J.M.M. Corp., for a zoning variance that would have allowed the establishment to operate within regulations as a sexually oriented business.

At the time, store representatives said previous owners of a similar store at the site, called D.C. Trading Post, lied on their occupancy license and said the store was not a sexually oriented business.

They said the new owner did not know he was in violation of city regulations when he purchased the business.

Despite later penalties from the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, Fun Fair continued to operate. Finally, the store’s certificate of occupancy was revoked in 2002, but that was never enforced. It was not clear yesterday why the revocation was not enforced.

DCRA yesterday was waiting for a written order from the office of Attorney General Linda Singer that would allow the agency to enforce the ruling, said Karyn Robinson, a DCRA spokeswoman.

Melissa Merz, a spokeswoman for the attorney general, said her office sent a draft order to the zoning board yesterday that explained the basis for denying J.M.M. Corp.’s appeal of the revocation.

The order can be served once three board members approve it, and would become effective 10 days later, unless zoning officials vote to stay the order.

“Attorney General Singer is very concerned about this issue and met with community advocates last Friday,” Miss Merz said. “No community should have to tolerate the operation of a business that is violating the law, let alone with the kind of delay that has occurred in this case.”

Miss Robinson said Mrs. Singer also is looking for other legal options to expedite the process.

A person who answered the phone during an attempt to reach an attorney for the video store declined comment.

At the rally, protesters carried signs that read: “Shut It Down” and “Enforce D.C. Law,” and chanted, “It’s not Fun; It’s not Fair.”

Metropolitan Police 1st District Cmdr. Diane Groomes said she has worked closely with residents to reduce crime associated with the store, and that Friday police officers arrested a suspect during a sting operation for crack-cocaine distribution inside Fun Fair Video.

Cmdr. Groomes said the store is not necessarily the source of a lot of crime in the area, but may create an environment that breeds crime.

“It’s not that they’re causing prostitution, but maybe people think if you have an adult-oriented business, maybe it’s more acceptable,” she said. Removing the business “may reduce it, but totally eliminate it — I don’t think so.”

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