Napa’s only downtown adult-oriented store could soon be closing its doors, if landlord/developer West Pueblo Partners has anything to say about it.
“It’s not the type of use we want in our buildings,” said Michael L. Holcomb, who has owned the building with his West Pueblo associates for several months.
“It’s nothing personal against the store. I’m not the pecker police and I don’t care what kind of sex toys people are buying. But no one wants to rent the space next to a sex shop,” he said.
Pleasures Unlimited has been in its Second Street location, a half block from City Hall, since 1999. Owner Ed Hayman said Wednesday that business has always been strong.
In 2007, Hayman even tried to open a second location in American Canyon, but saw his advances rebuffed by local officials who did not want his X-rated materials sold in the city.
Store manager Steve Nefas said Wednesday that tourists and locals alike flock to the storefront daily — purchasing everything from high-end lingerie to more exotic adult products. The store has never missed a rent payment and has been a respectful and ideal tenant, said Nefas.
So when West Pueblo Partners purchased the building from longtime owner George Altamura a few months back, the local shop didn’t think there would be any problem renewing their lease.
But according to Holcomb, West Pueblo Partners has struggled to find any tenants willing to set up shop in the vacant space next to the adult store.
“What are we going to do, ask a bakery to be right next to a sex shop?” Holcomb asked. “Baked goods next to vibrators just won’t go. I do feel bad for (Hayman), but he should know it’s not a real pleasant use downtown for most people.”
Holcomb also pointed out that Hayman’s rent hasn’t increased in years. Hayman has reportedly been paying $2,000 a month to occupy the approximate 2,000-square-foot space, which is just two doors down from a UPS store, also a West Pueblo Partners tenant.
West Pueblo Partners recently told Hayman his month-to-month rent would be increasing to $5,000 — more than double what he had been paying. But after multiple businesses refused to occupy the vacant space next to the sex shop, Holcomb said he and his partners decided to evict Hayman instead.
The ownership group, which includes Holcomb’s son, Michael C. Holcomb and land use lawyer Kevin Teague, purchased the building for $1.7 million. The developers plan to invest an additional $300,000 in renovations to the aging structure shortly, the senior Holcomb said.
“The annual property tax alone on that building will be almost $19,000,” he said. “The low rents that both Pleasures Unlimited and the UPS store have enjoyed for years are unrealistic, given the makeover that downtown has recently gone through.”
Speaking on behalf of Hayman, who wished not to be quoted, Nefas said the business understands that downtown real estate is worth much more than it used to be.
“But to just come in and edge the small businesses out by raising rents — before making any renovations that would make this a desirable space that is worth premium rent rates — is just wrong,” he said.
When asked if his rents had been raised as well, UPS store owner Bill Meyers declined to comment. But Holcomb confirmed that West Pueblo Partners is seeking enough rent from all the building’s tenants to — at minimum — cover the lot’s annual property taxes.
This is not the first time Holcomb or his partners have sharply increased rents after purchasing a building. In 2012, longtime cigar shop Baker Street Downtown was forced to close its doors after Holcomb reportedly raised the store’s rent fourfold.
At the time, owner Brenda Roberts said small businesses couldn’t survive such sharp and sudden spikes in overhead expenses. But Holcomb reiterated this week that he and his partners merely charge market rates for valuable downtown spaces.
“We want to be reasonable and we want to work with people,” he said Wednesday. “We try to be nice and negotiate fair rents with our tenants, but we can’t put this kind of money into a building and charge 15-year-old rent rates.”
Hayman said that he is currently looking to relocate his business within city limits. According to the city’s municipal code, adult-oriented businesses are only allowed in the industrial area off of Kaiser Road and Enterprise Way — at the very southern end of town.
Pleasures Unlimited is currently considered a more general retail use, since the city believes less than 30 percent of the store’s merchandise is X-rated material or products. According to Napa City Planner Karlo Felix, the city doesn’t check up on retail stores to make sure that they are complying with that 30 percent benchmark.
But if the small shop is forced to move, it would trigger a look at the business’ operations. If the store is deemed to be an adult-oriented business, it would be forced to relocate to the southern industrial zone. Such a move could make attracting customers — especially tourists — difficult for Hayman and his staff.
Nefas said the store is looking to transition away from some of its X-rated material.
“We want to take this opportunity to move to a more high-end, lingerie-based business model,” he said. “Tourists and honeymooners really seem to like that. But we’ll have to wait and see where we end up.”