City Reporter 

City Reporter

11-month Foreplay

Despite protests, sex shop finally opens in Cordova.

By Mary Cashiola

Sometimes, when you want something, all you have to do is ask.

With satin skivvies in the window and a small green "OPEN" sign announcing their change in status, the adult-novelty store Christal's opened in Cordova Friday after an 11-month delay.

The controversial store planned to open late last year but was denied an occupancy permit by the county's codes-enforcement office because Christal's had more than 5 percent "adult novelty" items in its inventory.

"Someone asked a real simple question," said James Noblitt, regional manager of the store, of the recent events. "I think it was our lawyer. He said, 'How do we get reinspected?' They said we just had to reapply. As soon as they said that, I was at the office the next day." He reapplied Monday, was approved Thursday, and the store opened Friday.

After the November inspection, the staff tried to get within the 5 percent range, but a permit inspection in December was also denied. The Colorado-based company then took the city to court over the matter. The case in Circuit Court is still pending. Noblitt couldn't comment on the ongoing litigation or what changes they made in the store to meet code.

"See all my protesters?" Noblitt asked, pointing to the empty sidewalk. As of Friday afternoon, the store had about 20 customers, some buying, some "just curious," according to Noblitt. When Christal's tried to open last year, it had some very vocal opponents in the Cordova community, including city councilman Brent Taylor.

"If you don't like what we sell, don't shop here," said Noblitt. "You shouldn't decide for this entire community that they can't shop here. If you want to, you should be able to. We're not pulling anyone in by their hair."

Christal's had three other stores in the Memphis area (one has since closed) when the company decided to open another store on Germantown Parkway. "We went scouting for property, and we found this," said Noblitt. "I know there's a market here for this stuff."

In Noblitt's 17 years in the industry, he says he's seen adult-novelty items go both more upscale and more mainstream.

While waiting to open, the store sat fully stocked with merchandise: lingerie, creams, gels, Kama Sutra kits. Noblitt said he can't estimate how much money the company lost on the stocked merchandise or the rent and utilities for the space. The store is not fully staffed, and Friday there were some cobwebs still clinging to the ceiling. The big maroon "Christal's -- The Fun Starts Here" sign, once mounted on the facade of the building, sits in the middle of the sales floor. It's too big to meet code regulations.

"Come back later," said Noblitt. "We should be here. I don't know why we wouldn't. Then again, I don't know why we couldn't open 10 months ago."

Signs and Space

School board debates the cost of signage and office space.

By Mary Cashiola

With some schools needing money for falling ceiling tiles and leaky toilets, a Memphis City Schools (MCS) Capital Improvement Program (CIP) committee decided to hold off on installing exterior signs at new schools.

The signage package, which would cost the district almost $244,700 and would include directional signs for 18 schools, was pulled from the board's agenda at the last regular board meeting because of questions about the cost.

"Is it important that we do it right now? Why would we spend this money on signage when we have some problems that are more severe at other schools?" asked Commissioner Wanda Halbert at the CIP committee meeting last week.

John Williams, director of the division of facility planning, called it a "quantitative budgetary decision" and said that "[signage] is an integral part of the facility. To me, it's no different than leaving off a light fixture."

With bids usually good for 60 days, the committee decided to hold off on the proposal. At the same time, Commissioner Sara Lewis acknowledged that she had some trouble recently finding her way around A.B. Hill School and that they probably needed the signs.

"If we don't do it," she said, "it's going to be symbolic. In looking at our budget, $244,000 isn't that much money. We've got to put something out there to identify those schools."

The decision comes at a time when commissioners are carefully watching the district's budgets. Last week, the board approved almost $50,000 to rent offices in East Memphis for its division of facility planning. The district took over the space from Parsons-Fleming, the company contracted to work with the district on its CIP needs. After the Parsons-Fleming contract expired, MCS staff planned to assume the lease until March 2003, when the division would move to newly renovated offices in the MCS central administration building.

Some commissioners wondered if the division could have moved somewhere less pricey in the interim. Both Lewis and Halbert believed that there was enough room in the central administration building for the 12-person division, but there have been conflicting reports about how many employees the district has working.

"I want to know who is out there. You say there are 12 people in the division. I see one, two, three people out there," Lewis said at the meeting, counting from a list on a piece of paper. "All the other positions are vacant. I don't understand that."

Williams said that five people who previously worked with Parsons-Fleming are now contract employees for MCS. Lewis told him she understood the explanation but that "it doesn't satisfy me. It's okay. I know how to deal with it. I'll just write a resolution."

Music Silenced

Mars closes one year after opening.

A Memphis music superstore closed its doors Monday, following the company's filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

The Fort Lauderdale-based musical- instrument retailer Mars Music posted signs at 888 South White Station Road informing customers that the "store is closed and will not reopen." Also listed are contact numbers for anyone holding instrument rentals, music lessons, and gift cards.

"[Mars] would like to thank the musicians in the Memphis area for their business," said Christine Chalovich, Mars' marketing vice president. "Long term, [Memphis] would have been a great market. We will miss it."

Chalovich said any customer with outstanding business will be taken care of, either through another store or through a customer-service Web site.

Mars, called "the Wal-Mart of music stores," opened its first store in 1997 and eventually had branches in 20 states. The Memphis store is one of four closing, according to company officials. Others include one store in Michigan and two in Massachusetts. The other Tennessee store, located in Nashville, will remain open.

The Memphis store in Eastgate Shopping Center, which opened in November 2001, was the chain's 50th store. The 18,000-square-foot store boasted below-standard prices and offered music lessons and instrument repair. The chain still has 37 stores in operation.

Much of the local inventory will be sold at a public auction Monday, October 7th, at 10 a.m. at the Memphis store.

Without a Trace

Midtown family is mystified by man's disappearance.

By Bianca Phillips

"Missing: Christopher Cook. Description: 5'11", gray hair and mustache, 54 years old, wearing wire-rimmed glasses, a T-shirt and jeans, and white running shoes." That's the description Midtown resident Cindie Cook has given for her husband, who hasn't been seen for more than two weeks.

On Saturday, September 14th, the Cooks attended the Cooper-Young Festival amid the bustle of the locals who swarmed the historic district on that sunny day. Cindie Cook said they were having a good time, and she had no idea that her normally peace-loving husband would soon join the ranks of missing persons.

Around 9 p.m. that evening, Cindie was on the phone with her son and daughter, who live near their mother's home in the Gilmore Courtyard apartments at Madison and McLean. Shelby, 24, and Paul, 28, were taking turns talking to their mother when Christopher, a normally quiet man, turned from watching TV and began to say mean, out-of-character things to his wife.

"I saw the switch in his eyes," said Cindie. "It was like seeing a whole different person. I just wanted to calm him down and get him back to himself."

She put the phone down but purposefully didn't hang up, so the kids would hear what was going on. They rushed over to help calm their stepfather, but Christopher began yelling at Shelby when she entered. He then took off, running out of the apartment, and no one has seen him since.

Cindie has filed a missing-persons report with the Memphis Police Department and has placed posters (left) around Midtown, and Shelby drives around looking for him every day. Cook hasn't showed up or called his employers at Christie Cut Stone since his disappearance.

"He could be in Montana by now, for all I know. We don't ever really hang out anywhere. We just sit at home, so I don't think he's in Midtown," said Cindie. "There are only two people he ever talks to regularly, and they say they haven't heard from him."

Cook left home on foot. He doesn't own a car. He has no credit cards or bank accounts, and his driver's license lists the wrong address. "I honestly believe Chris is sick or hurt but may not appear so," said Cindie. She says his episode was completely unlike him, and she's not angry with him because she feels that something was wrong with him.

"He's a very sweet man. He's a Buddhist, and he'd give a homeless person his last cent," she said.

Anyone with any information about Christopher Cook should call Cindie Cook at (901) 649-4913.

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