Porn wars 

A sex-shop invasion creates Atlanta's new red-light district

These are exhilarating times to be in the pornography business, if John Cornetta's mood is any indication.

The Love Shack sex-shop mogul has opened 10 stores in two years across metro Atlanta -- a wildfire expansion by any measure. He's fending off at least a half-dozen lawsuits and injunctions in state and federal court. And he's locked in a risky game of trash-talking brinkmanship with three large metro counties, all of which would like to shut him down, if only to shut him up.

To say Cornetta is brimming with a self-confident energy these days is like noting that Ron Jeremy has an active libido.

"I personally believe there should be a business like mine on every corner," he says, only partly kidding.

One place where this scenario has become a near-reality is Fulton Industrial Boulevard.

From I-20 south to Campbellton Road, the Fulton Industrial corridor is lined with cavernous warehouses, distribution hubs and manufacturing facilities owned by such corporate behemoths as Anheuser-Busch, McDonald's and Warner-Electra-Atlantic records.

Dozens of Georgia businesses are represented as well, including Coca-Cola, with a sprawling bottling plant, Bronner Brothers hair products and the Great American Cookie Co.

With more than 1,000 companies and 30,000 employees along an eight-mile stretch, Fulton Industrial arguably is the richest piece of roadway in the county's tax rolls.

And yet, the half-mile strip of pavement at its northern end -- straddled by I-20, just outside the western Perimeter -- has long been home to a woebegone collection of truck stops, fast-food joints, seedy motels and second-rate strip clubs.

Clustered within the same hell's half-acre of oil-stained asphalt are a trio of clubs with such names as Fannie's, Riley's Showbar and Babes -- whose aging sign features the come-on "Totally Nude" for those somehow unfamiliar with Atlanta's reputation for bottomless entertainment. A sticker on Babes' front door resembling the Intel slogan, but with one not-too-clever alteration, reads: "Booty inside."

A well-known haven for prostitution, petty crime and plain-old loitering, the northern end of Fulton Industrial is so inhospitable to mainstream businesses that its lone sit-down restaurant, a Shoney's, is now empty and abandoned.

A few enterprising businesspeople, however, apparently decided the area had retail potential. Last year brought a large influx of investment -- but it likely wasn't the kind most local boosters were seeking.

In the space of a few months, Inserection owner Michael Morrison opened one of his trademark "adult fantasy stores," as well as New York Video -- a more hardcore, video-heavy store -- across the road from each other. Two private swingers clubs, Trapeze and 2 Risque; an S&M nightclub, Club Kink; and Club Wax, a large strip club, set up shop a stone's throw apart on a side street overlooking Fulton Industrial. Finally, the Love Shack opened across from the entrance to the county-owned Charlie Brown Airport.

In roughly a year's time, the gateway to Fulton County's most prosperous industrial district had been transformed from a run-down retail pocket into metro Atlanta's new red-light district -- all within sight of the Six Flags roller coasters.

But this transition hasn't happened smoothly. After what seemed like a long period of dormancy, Fulton, DeKalb and Cobb counties have joined Gwinnett in getting hot under the collar about sex shops.

Fulton has been attempting to do away with all three Love Shack locations within its borders and has cited a fourth adult video store with violating the county permit code.

Both Cobb and Marietta officials have invoked the state's creaky obscenity law in going after stores in their jurisdictions. The city has even succeeded in securing a judge's order to padlock an Inserection across the road from the Big Chicken.

DeKalb County is trying to shut down two new Memorial Drive stores, as well as shops on south Moreland Avenue and Buford Highway, but may have undercut its efforts with recent, loophole-closing amendments to what Cornetta has called "the stupidest adult ordinance in America."

Only Gwinnett seems to be taking a breather from losing its initial fight to keep the Love Shack chain from gaining a foothold there.

The legal battles in which Cornetta, Morrison and several of their competitors are currently engaged may very well decide the future of smut-peddling in metro Atlanta. If the counties prevail, some of the stores will disappear and it will be difficult for any new locations open. If the counties lose and their adult-business ordinances are stricken down -- as has happened before to both Gwinnett and Fulton -- then Cornetta believes the floodgates will be open and he'll have his pick of store sites.

It's safe to say the porn-shop business is most exhilarating right now to those who, like Cornetta, thrive on conflict and confrontation. It was the early '80s. Ronald Reagan was talking tough to the Evil Empire. Michael Jackson's Thriller was burning up the album charts. Flashdance was packing movie theaters. Excited Americans were tuning in to watch the space shuttle take off.

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