Owner of Columbia’s lone adult shop makes case to stay open on Devine Street

The owner of Columbia’s only X-rated shop said it may switch to selling merchandise of a less controversial nature to remain open at its current Devine Street location.

That change could come if Taboo fails to get a waiver from restrictions that threaten to shut it down Dec. 31, owner Jeffrey White said after a hearing Thursday.

“I’ve put too much into it to walk away and not try something else first,” he said.

The store may feature lingerie, lotions and films while dropping sex toys and other items deemed hard-core, he said.

His comments came after city officials scoffed at White’s claim that he is entitled to remain open at least a year longer due to financial hardship.

That extension is permitted under controls on such operations adopted in 2011 after a furor over the store’s opening in the 4700 block of Devine Street, a commercial corridor with popular groceries and restaurants.

White claims he is $271,000 in the red, but city officials said $230,000 is due to management fees he claims are due himself and his brother. In addition, officials say, White charged personal expenses such as food, hotels and fuel to the business.

Financial reports showing a deficit are “junk, lacking in any credibility,”’ said Scott Bergthold, a lawyer hired by city officials to press for Taboo’s shutdown.

White admitted minor accounting mistakes but insisted the store needs more time to break even as allowed, despite those errors.

“The financials may not be perfect,” he said. “They were put together on the fly.”

But the reports are “woefully short” of meeting standards that would let the store claim financial hardship, Bergthold said.

Bergthold also derided claims that restrictions keeping the store closed from midnight to 6 a.m. daily are adding to the store’s problems, pointing out Taboo is open by choice from 11 a.m. to midnight.

White said no customers stop by in early morning.

Sales are picking up, he said, as the store gains popularity with soldiers at nearby Fort Jackson and local housewives.

“The store is finally turning a profit after two years,” he said. “We’re barely making ends meet.”

White also insisted he deserves another year to operate the store after city leaders revised some guidelines on its operation a year ago.

He is near bankruptcy, he said.

Taboo is one of three companies he runs, with one profitable, White said.

“I put my heart and soul into this location,” he said predicting it could generate $1 million yearly - four times its current level - in sales eventually.

White said he looked at challenging the city’s restrictions, an effort that would allow the store to remain open. But doing that is too costly, he said.

The fate of Taboo rests with Malane Pike, a Midlands lawyer hired by the city to weigh the situation and decide whether the store should be allowed to stay open. Her decision is due in 10 days.