(Full disclosure: Jill McDevitt writes a blog for the Daily Local News and has done so for a few years.)
Jill McDevitt could be called a lot of things. And judging from some of the telephone calls I have received today, some of them aren’t so nice.
I have met Jill, have talked to her many times in person and on the telephone. And in a world of business dominated by men, it seems obvious to me at least that in West Chester, Jill McDevitt is considered a threat.
She’s a threat (not to me but to others in the borough) to standards of decency, levels of acceptance of human sexuality and certainly to the standards of downtown West Chester. Or at least that’s what’s been tossed around.
Say what you want, Jill McDevitt is controversial – and she’s also a business owner. And she’s doing what she thinks is the best for her business.
McDevitt has a Bachelor of Arts degree in sexuality, marriage and family, and a master’s degree in human sexuality education, and she is pursuing a doctorate. She gives workshops and seminars on human sexuality and other topics. So she doesn’t speak from an ignorant point of view.
One woman called this morning objecting to the Daily Local News story and a picture of McDevitt’s sign – the center of the issue with the borough – and told me that “…that woman has a problem – a big problem.”
To give everyone an idea of what the beef is, McDevitt is trying to change her store’s sign.
Sporting the same shape and metal bracket as the store’s previous sign, the proposed sign reflects McDevitt’s decision to drop the word “Boutique” from the store’s name. The proposed sign displays McDevitt’s Feminique business logo, a script logo with the outline of a female form and the word “Feminique” and the slogan “Get your heart on.”
Now honestly, did we really expect a dull, boring sign from her?
According to a story by Daily Local reporter Jeremy Gerrard, the final decision on her sign rests with Borough Council, but the zoning committee’s unanimous decision Tuesday was good news for McDevitt
Prior to Tuesday’s meeting, the historical and architectural review board approved the sign, with the exception of its content. Borough Manager Ernie McNeely said the scope of the historical and architectural review board is to decide what is historically significant under certain guidelines given to them.
“Obviously some of it is subjective, but typically they do not look at the content,” McNeely told Jeremy.
Here’s a significant portion of Jeremy’s story:
The historical and architectural review board’s decision was split on the basis of content. One board member said the sign’s erotic design would violate McDevitt’s self-drafted agreement with the borough.
During the original controversy surrounding her shop, McDevitt agreed to not depict nudity or genitalia in her store’s sign. On her proposed sign, a heart is positioned like a fig leaf over the outline of a female form, and the board said that was essentially a depiction of pubic hair.
McDevitt disagreed and said she wants to change the sign to update her business.
“I’ve had a lot of people looking for this business and can’t find it and look for our logo and don’t see it hanging,” McDevitt said. “Also, what I think is interesting is that the sign currently is so discrete that people have no concept, if they haven’t read all the news, of what type of business this is. So there’s people with children or their daughter coming in thinking that they’re going to look at women’s clothing and they’re like, wow. For me, if they really want to be discrete, they’ll let people subtly know this is an adult store.”
McDevitt said she was bothered when the historical and architectural review board asked her if she thought the sign would be appropriate for the year 1890, to which she responded that if it were 1890, then she wouldn’t be able to own the business or vote.
At Tuesday’s meeting, the zoning committee was quick to support the proposed sign as submitted and not with the restrictions that the historical and architectural review board had recommended.
Malcolm Johnstone, a borough resident and executive director of the borough’s business improvement district, spoke against the sign. He said this matter concerns McDevitt complying with her agreement with the borough.
“This document represents a public promise you made to the community. And Jill, you did the right thing when you drafted it,” Johnstone said. “I’m sure you are fully aware that it’s not about you; it’s about the next owner of Feminique. Yours is the only sex shop that can exist in downtown West Chester. This has created significant value for you when it’s time to sell the store. Who’s to say that a new owner won’t make it a full-blown pornography shop that glorifies rape and objectifies women?”
Johnstone said he has gained respect for McDevitt but will be disappointed if she proceeds with her sign request. Johnstone’s comments to the borough officials were initially sent to McDevitt in an e-mail.
“What you’re doing now is coming across as either irresponsible or clueless,” Johnstone said.
McDevitt said she was upset to receive the e-mail from someone who represents the business improvement district.
“It’s hard to trust that he has my interest in mind,” McDevitt said.
Joe Norley (another Daily Local blogger) agreed with McDevitt.
“I don’t really appreciate the BID director coming up and making moralistic determinations for the community,” Norley said. “This is America; you should be able to do what you want.”
Johnstone said the sign is not “horrible by any means,” but it is different when it’s attached to a sex shop. He said this change may create a regrettable precedent.
“This type of public discourse allows this type of thinking to manifest that anybody who is sexually expressive is a pervert, and it’s unfortunate that it keeps having to go into the public sphere because of (the historical and architectural review board),” McDevitt said.
I couldn’t agree more.
When I get calls like I did this morning, I try and point out that this is a business question, not a morals question. McDevitt has the right to operate her business just like the deli, the dry cleaners, the print store or the jewelry store.
The issues only become magnified because she operates a sex shop. When you throw in the word S-E-X, everything changes.
Would it matter if it were a knitting store? Of course it would.
And to the callers, folks, are you calling your local cable company or the FCC about shows like “16 and Pregnant,” “Jersey Shore” or any of the other trash? It’s way worse than Jill McDevitt’s sign OR store.
We need to realize that the operation of “Feminique” should be argued like the operation of any other business. And to treat it any differently is just plain wrong.
— Andy Hachadorian