Cobb commissioners revoked the business license of east Cobb’s Tokyo Valentino sex shop early Wednesday, but the store will likely remain open pending the result of an appeal, according to county officials.
County staff suspended the store’s license in September, saying its owner had lied when applying for the license and in statements given to news organizations. Tokyo Valentino appealed the decision, and, after a hearing that went past midnight Wednesday, Cobb’s five-member Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to uphold the county’s suspension.
After the ruling, Tokyo Valentino attorney Cary Wiggins said he plans to appeal the board’s decision. Deputy County Attorney Debbie Blair said it was “more than likely” the store would be able to remain open pending the results of that appeal.
HISTORYThe store, part of an Atlanta-based chain owned by businessman Michael Morrison, was controversial before it opened.
Cobb County business license records filed in the spring said “1290 Clothing Co.,” owned by Tomika Hugley, would occupy the space at 1290 Johnson Ferry Road, across the street from the Merchants Walk shopping center. According to those records, the store was to sell “clothing, undergarments, shoes, games, cards & other misc.”
But Morrison appears on 1290 Clothing Co. business formation documents filed in January with the secretary of state’s office as organizer, authorizer and manager. Rebecca Crider, the registered agent for 1290 Clothing Co., is the same agent as that of Cheshire Bridge Holdings, a parent company of Tokyo Valentino.
East Cobb residents accused Morrison of trying to slip a Tokyo Valentino into their community under false pretenses. They bombarded their commissioner, Bob Ott, with emails; complained at commissioners’ meetings; and started an online petition that ultimately drew thousands of signatures.
Morrison initially denied involvement, saying he already had a Tokyo Valentino location in Marietta. When presented with the secretary of state documents, he suggested someone within his company may be developing the new location, but said it was the first he had heard of it.
Morrison later said his company was “apparently” planning to open an electric dance music and festival clothing store at the location. Since the pandemic had “absolutely killed concert festivals,” however, the company would reconsider its plans for the location.
In June, the east Cobb Tokyo Valentino opened its doors. At the time, county officials said that if the store operated in accordance with its business license and was similar to the Marietta Tokyo Valentino, it would be legal under county code.
“We sent our code enforcement to a similar shop on Highway 41 in Marietta, and all the stuff they were selling didn’t violate any code or ordinance that we have,” said Ross Cavitt, a spokesman for the county.
The Marietta store sells adult toys, lingerie, smoking accessories and other items.
HEARINGIn September, the county changed its tune, saying it had suspended Tokyo Valentino’s license. In a letter dated Sept. 8, business license division manager Ellisia Webb said the store and its owners had lied when filing an application that said it would do business as 1290 Clothing Co. and sell “clothing, undergarments, shoes, games, cards & other misc.”
Instead, the store opened as Tokyo Valentino, and more than 70% of its inventory is dedicated to “lotions and lubes,” “toys” and “smoke products,” Webb wrote. She also said Morrison misled the public when he told reporters he had nothing to do with 1290 Clothing Co. or that it would be a festival-supply store.
Tuesday night, Wiggins said the east Cobb Tokyo Valentino was being singled out to placate a “vocal minority” and it was “not material” the store’s owner had listed its name as 1290 Clothing Co. or failed to include sex toys or lube among the items it would sell when completing the business license application.
Sex shops are subject to increased regulation under county code. The Board of Commissioners amended the relevant ordinance in September, expanding the definition of such shops and imposing more stringent guides on where and how they can operate.
Before the county amended that ordinance, sex toys were not among the items that would require a business to register as a sex shop, Wiggins said.
The attorney also took issue with the charge that a business has to operate under the name listed on its license application. Scores of businesses list on their application their corporate name rather than the name by which they do business, he said.
“If they put in Tokyo Valentino, there would be no denial of the license application for that name alone,” Wiggins said. “Unless the (listed name) is scandalous or something. I suppose there would be a basis there, but there’s nothing scandalous about the words ‘Tokyo’ or ‘Valentino,’ even taken together.”
Wiggins also said Morrison had a First Amendment right to lie to reporters while also suggesting they had misquoted Morrison.
Commissioners were not convinced.
Ott took issue with the discrepancy between documents filed with the county and the secretary of state.
“As a member of the public, if I were to look at that, and then I were to look at the business application and see a different name — in my mind that is misrepresenting or trying to hide to me as a member of the public … what the intention of the business is,” Ott said.
Referring to the application’s list of items the store would sell, south Cobb Commissioner Lisa Cupid said it was “hard to believe they did not have some intent to be deceptive on that list … I cannot grasp why the core of their business was omitted from a list of activity.”
North Cobb Commissioner JoAnn Birrell said it was misleading for the company to list itself as 1290 Clothing Co.
Evidence presented by county-hired attorney Scott Bergthold included several emails from Tomika Hugley, the woman named on the store’s business license application, to the county’s business license division.
Hugley asked that the business license be closed “due to me no longer being affiliated with the company,” she wrote in an Aug. 11 email.
“I was not involved in the ordering of inventory or products,” she explained in a subsequent email. “I have pleaded with my previous partners to make changes and they have refused to do so. … The store that currently exists should apply for a proper business license.”
Before the board’s vote to revoke Tokyo Valentino’s license, Board Chairman Mike Boyce referred to those emails, saying he couldn’t get over the fact that Hugley had cut ties with the company.
“Something just doesn’t seem right,” he said.