CHELSEA — Residents are mobilizing to stop a new sex shop and cafe from getting a liquor license, fearing that the venue will turn their neighborhood from Chelsea chic into something like the sleazy old Times Square.
Splash Sexy Boutique opened in November, promising to be "a Place Like No Other" with offers of sexy products, a seating area and a planned upstairs bar.
The store at 155 Eighth Ave. applied for its full liquor license from the State Liquor Authority and will appear before the Community Board 4 Business Licenses and Permits Committee on Jan. 14 for an advisory vote.
But dozens of locals plan to protest the license at the meeting, saying that giving the store a liquor license — especially on a busy avenue already crowded with sex shops — would be a mistake.
"There are already a concentration of businesses on Eighth Avenue that are magnets for prostitution," said Ethan Felson, president of a nearby condo association. "Adding yet another and giving that one a liquor license puts us at risk for reaching that tipping point where Eighth Avenue is no longer a desirable commercial district, but rather a sex district."
A police source said that there are occasional problems with prostitutes soliciting clients in and outside of Eighth Avenue's sex shops. Neighbors said they frequently see male prostitutes early in the morning outside of several of the shops, adding that they feared a liquor license would help turn the area into a party hot spot.
"We're potentially going to be a citywide destination for prostitution," said Laura Evans, who leads a block association for the 300 block of West 18th and 19th streets.
Splash owner Dumesh Kankanamalage, who owns nearby Rainbow Station along with several online sex toy websites, said in an email that he planned to work with his neighbors to address their concerns.
"First of all I don't get why this store is being called a sex store. We don't sell any porn in the store. We sell lingerie, lubricants, novelties, condoms etc. No porn at all," he wrote.
"Secondly, I don't understand on what grounds neighbors are concerned about prostitution coming. If the concerned parties could show me specific ways how my business would bring prostitution to the neighborhood, I would immediately attend to them and do my best to address their concerns."
But neighbors said the only way that Kankanamalage could make them happy would be to drop the application for a liquor license and scrap plans for the bar.
"It will add more to the people coming here to drink or whatever," said Gloria Nahlen, 77, a lifelong Chelsea resident. "It won't be a regular restaurant and bar — what they're going to sell there will be handcuffs and vibrators, so it will bring in undesirable people."