Cowley sex shop battles to keep licence

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PHOTO//Oxford Mail

The Private Shop on Cowley Road is facing a battle to stay open after the city council received 10 objections against its annual license renewal.

Residents and lawyers have claimed that there is a “sub-culture” of sleaze in the area, particularly after nine men were jailed in June for the sexual abuse of local children. The shop, run by adult company Darker Enterprises, was not linked to the case. <!–more–>

One of the objections, listed on the city council’s website, said that the shop is located within 300m of two primary schools and a pre-school. Another described the area as a “potential red light district”.

When the shop applied to renew its license last year, there were no objections. David Brown, of Darker Enterprises, said that he was “concerned” about the movement to not renew the license.

“The police haven’t objected, and there’s been no record of them objecting in recent years. We employ three staff and provide a service, including to numerous students who buy our products.”

“We don’t know how it will go. We hope we’ll be successful, as we have a well run, regulated establishment. We pay just over £8000 in license fees to Oxford City Council, whereas pubs only pay £100.”

The shop, located at the junction between Cowley Road and Circus Street, has been in the area for 20 years. It is close to a number of colleges and college annexes, including St Hilda’s College and The Queen’s College’s Florey Building.

Alexander Beecham, a second year English student at Merton, said associating the shop with the recent sex abuse case was “unsubstantiated and prejudicial”.

“A personal moral objection to the commercial activity of sex shops should not be connected to the entirely separate issue of sexual abuse without proper justification,” he said.

“Likewise it seems hypocritical to talk of making people ‘feel welcome’ when exactly the opposite is being done to those who run and are served by this business.

“The kinds of attitudes behind such coercive and prudish moves seem not so much anti-abuse as anti-sex.”

Sophie Collins, a second year French student at Queen’s, said the “focus on this sex shop” in the aftermath of the Bullfinch case was wrong.

“I disagree completely that the Cowley environment is to blame for cases like this,” she said.

“For a lot of students, Cowley is a welcoming place, with many fantastic places to eat, drink, and socialise, and that shouldn’t be brought down by a case like this.”

Oxford East MP Andrew Smith said that he supported the Cowley residents who wanted to avoid giving the area a “seedy image”, but that the “shop and its customers also have rights”.

The shop, noted for its covered windows to give privacy to customers, is one of two such businesses on Cowley Road.

The wider economy of the area has struggled in recent months. In August, the People’s Supermarket faced the prospect of closure unless it raised £20,000 in donations.