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Sex shop billboard roils North Tonawanda officials

The billboard shows a woman wearing black lingerie and describes the business as a "sexy lingerie and adult store." The advertisement for the sex shop in Amherst describes the store as "upscale and unisex," carrying sizes extra-small to 5x.

Atop a pole in downtown North Tonawanda, the billboard for the shop Xsentuals is being condemned as offensive and detrimental to the city's image, especially during the ongoing Canal Fest. Two North Tonawanda officials want the advertisement taken down.

"It's really not the kind of thing we want to promote downtown," said Jay Soemann, president of the Downtown Merchants Association of North Tonawanda, in an interview.

North Tonawanda Alderman Jeff Glatz and Niagara County Legislator Richard Andres issued a news release Tuesday calling for the billboard, located near the corner of Webster and Tremont streets, to be removed.

Lamar Advertising, which owns the billboard, is not going to take it down, said Richard Dvorak, Lamar's general manager.

"I felt there was nothing on the board that was that offensive," Dvorak said.

The billboard will remain, he said, until Lamar's contract with Xsentuals expires at the end of August.

Lamar has about 1,200 billboards in Western New York, and it receives only two or three complaints per year about the content, Dvorak said.

Glatz and Andres said they want Lamar Advertising to replace the ad with something "more appropriate." North Tonawanda works hard to protect its "family-friendly atmosphere," Glatz said.

Andres pointed to Canal Fest, the weeklong event which opened Sunday in North Tonawanda and the City of Tonawanda and draws thousands of families and visitors. Andres said the billboard isn't something the city wants as a first impression for visitors.

Soemann, who also owns Walker Bros. & Monroe Jewelers on Webster Street, said Webster Street "has come a long way in recent years" with an assortment of businesses, restaurants and cultural organizations.

"It's probably not in the best taste for downtown North Tonawanda," Soemann said. He said he has not personally received complaints about the billboard from customers or anyone else from the public.

In an interview, Glatz said he believes the billboard has been up a few weeks. He said he has spoken with Lamar officials to express his concerns.

Sharon Caleca, Xsentuals' owner, expressed concern about officials calling for her store's advertisement to be taken down, citing it as a possible infringement on her rights.

Caleca called the ad "tasteful." She said it was designed specifically to be less risque because it would be visible to crowds during Canal Fest. The billboard has been up since the start of June and was intended to generate business during the summer months, which she described as "slow."

"It wasn't a problem before," she said. "We're all adults. Kids go into Spencer's, do they not?" referring to the novelty retailer that sells gag gifts and other products, some of which engage in sexual humor.

Having put up more than 20 billboards in the past, Caleca said she has never experienced this kind of reaction to a billboard for her business. She defended her Transit Road shop, which she has owned for eight years, calling it "upscale." The store prohibits anyone younger than 18 from entering, she said.

"We don't have anything bad or obnoxious or crazy in here," she said.

According to the store's website, it sells a variety of items, including lingerie, sex toys and bachelorette party supplies.

Xsentuals' presence at Canal Fest is not limited to the controversial billboard in North Tonawanda.

She also said she's reserved vendor space for her shop Friday at Canal Fest.

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