COLUMBIA, SC — The word “taboo” means “forbidden,” and that is the signal that a federal judge sent the Columbia sex shop Taboo this week.
Although the city of Columbia is trying to shut down Taboo, located at 4716 Devine St. near Fort Jackson, Taboo had asked a federal judge to grant an injunction allowing it to temporarily remain open.
But in a ruling denying the injunction request, U.S. Judge Terry Wooten ruled that Taboo was not likely to succeed in its ongoing lawsuit to force the city of Columbia to allow it to stay open permanently at its current location.
In response to a query by The State newspaper as to whether the city would now seek to close Taboo, the city issued this statement: “The city of Columbia does not comment on pending litigation.”
Wooten also ruled that Taboo was not likely to “suffer irreparable harm” if he didn’t grant the store’s bid for an injunction. Cities have leeway to regulate sites of sex shops, he ruled.
Speaking for the owner, Jeffrey White, lawyer Tommy Goldstein of Charleston said Thursday he soon will be filing a motion for the judge to reconsider his ruling.
“If I can’t get the judge to take a broader view of it, I guess we will have to take a direct appeal to Richmond,” Goldstein said, speaking of the federal 4th Circuit Court of Appeals.
Meanwhile, Wooten has set a jury trial date in Taboo’s lawsuit against the city “on or after Jan. 5, 2015,” according to legal papers in the case. In its lawsuit, Taboo challenges the city’s authority to change the store location’s zoning, forcing it to move elsewhere. Taboo claims the city’s action violates its free speech rights.
Goldstein said he hoped the city “will let judicial process run its course” and won’t try to close down Taboo before trial.
“It would be regrettable if they came in and started arresting people and all that kind of stuff,” Goldstein said. “I don’t think anyone in the city has been harmed by this operation. If anyone has, the city hasn’t called it to my attention.”
The injunction Taboo sought was to last until the trial was over. Taboo claims the city is violating its civil and free speech rights.
The city has denied changing its sexually oriented business regulations to target Taboo. The city also claims there are plenty of other places for Taboo to locate in within city limits.
In legal papers, Taboo had claimed the city wants to shut the store down and “counts on the plaintiff going out of business and then becoming incapable of challenging the city’s acts.”
White, the owner, said in an affidavit he has spent “much time and effort and over $200,000 in total investment” on his store. In addition, he is committed to a 10-year lease paying $2,880 a month.
Closing his business would be an economic loss for himself and the city, he said.
He is married, he said, with one child and another on the way.
“We all depend on the survival of my store for our lives,” he said. “I have four employees, all of whom will become unemployed if we are forced to shut down.”
Taboo has been a sore spot for city officials since it opened in December 2011. Whole Foods already had announced it was opening across the intersection, and other upscale retailers since then have located along the same stretch of road, a major gateway corridor to the city’s downtown.
The store originally met the city’s zoning and licensing requirements. However, the city changed its sexually oriented business zoning and licensing requirements within weeks of Taboo’s 2011 opening. The store sells clothing, lotions, massage oils, DVDs and magazines, among other items.
The city’s zoning change meant Taboo no longer fell within permissible location rules. But the city gave the shop a two-year grace period and the chance to receive extensions if the owner could prove a move would cause a financial hardship. White applied for an extension, but the request was denied after a public hearing.
Noelle Phillips contributed to this story.