Big Island adult store across from middle school faces backlash
By Peter Sur
KEAAU — W.H. Shipman Ltd. is going to court to close an adult store that has opened across the street from Keaau Middle School.
Private Moments, which opened its doors Jan. 8, is located in the Keaau Plaza, which is also home to a diner, a tattoo parlor, a pawn shop, a smoke-filled bar and a fitness center.
Shipman, which owns 17,000 acres in Puna, alleges in a complaint filed yesterday that Keaau Plaza owner Jerry Nagakura violated terms of its lease by subleasing the 800-square-foot space to Private Moments.
Nagakura agreed on Jan. 8, 2009, to obtain written consent from Shipman before entering into any further subleases.
Parents became alarmed in December after learning the store was about to open. Word reached members of the Keaau Middle School Community Council, including Shipman President Bill Walter.
The company tried to settle the matter out of court, but as Walter said, “They intend to keep it open.” Neither Nagakura nor his attorney could be reached for comment.
Shipman's complaint, filed by Hilo attorney Thomas Yeh, states that “the use of the premises for a sex toy and adult movie store is immoral and offensive, particularly given the proximity of the premises to elementary and middle schools, and locations where children can be expected to pass or congregate on a frequent basis, and the fast food restaurant (J&J’s Diner) located on the premises.”
The lease to Keaau Plaza prohibits “any illegal, immoral or offensive purposes” without the prior written consent of Shipman. The 30-year lease was signed in 1972 and given a 10-year extension, through 2012.
Had Shipman known about the store, the company would have denied permission. The company is asking the 3rd Circuit Court to terminate the lease, make Private Moments vacate the parcel and award damages.
Walter was angered by a classified ad that Private Moments placed in Sunday's Tribune-Herald, advertising its location as “Across Keaau Middle School,” and he questioned how that was allowed to be published.
The store is located near the middle of town, close to a McDonald’s and a public park, in addition to the schools, Walter said.
“It's a big area, where you have a lot of kids, and putting a pornography shop in the middle is offensive,” he said. “Some of the people drawn to a pornography shop, you really don't want mixed with children.”
Shipman alleges that the adult store constitutes “immoral or offensive” activity, in violation of the lease.
At the time the lease was written, Walter said, “stores like this were considered to be highly offensive in that day and age. Today, you want to look at what does the community think? What's their standard?
“And you can see by the input we've been getting from the community” — Walter thumbed through a stack of more than a hundred complaints from community members — “this is immoral and offensive.”
The complaints to which Walter was referring were declarations on papers he was circulating throughout Keaau.
“The judicial system listens carefully to the community. If members of your churches, schools and organizations (or the organizations themselves) find the proposed store to be offensive, we ask that they fill out the attached form listing as many reasons for their belief as they choose. They may then mail the forms to us or fax them to us,” Walter wrote. “Your assistance with this will go a long way to demonstrating the will of the community.”
Ford and Leslie Pascual, a couple from Volcano, own the boutique store. They've invested about $40,000 to start the business, and have taken pains to keep youngsters from coming in.
The storefront is unassuming, with frosted and blacked-out glass and a sign warning minors to keep out. Inside, the first view a patron gets is of two blacked-out curtains. Here, those who aren't old enough are again told to keep out.
Closer in, facing the counter, are DVDs of R-rated films and some porn DVDs. The hardcore videos are farther in. Toward the back of the store is a section devoted to lingerie, and another for toys.
Ford Pascual, a former chef, said that nobody offered to pay him to move and he was never made aware of the lease requirements, including the written approval by Shipman.
He didn't even know that Shipman owned the land and could have moved to a place in Hilo. They tried to change the newspaper ad, but were told it was too late.
“If we knew that we would have had all these problems, we would not come here,” Pascual said.
Pascual doesn't think Walter, the Shipman president, should be the arbiter of what's immoral.
“I feel that that's just a person's opinion, because what's immoral to him can be different compared to all others,” he said.
Pascual's attorney, Paul Dolan, plans to countersue Shipman for negligence in subleasing Private Moments and the other stores — few of which can be considered “kid-friendly” — to operate.
“There's nothing illegal about it,” Dolan said of the adult store.
“They (the lawsuit) fail to mention that Shipman has rented and leased to biker bars, a Harley-Davidson shop, a tattoo shop, a pawn shop,” Dolan said, calling Keaau Plaza an “adult-oriented complex.” He notes that the store voluntarily closes for 90 minutes after school gets out, from 2 to 3:30 p.m.
“My wife's aunt used to own the video store before Ford and Leslie,” Dolan said. “Shipman allowed them to rent and sell adult videos.”
“None of the other businesses there ever got any consent from Shipman to open up,” Dolan said.
Dolan has 20 days to respond to Yeh's lawsuit. If no settlement can be reached, the Circuit Court will schedule a trial.
“If they pay us the money,” Dolan said, “OK, they'll move.”