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Ordinance would censor storefronts in downtown Dells

Published On: Dec 24 2013 01:16:48 PM CST   Updated On: Nov 01 2013 04:18:55 PM CDT

T-shirt in downtown Dells


Wisconsin Dells Mayor Brian Landers said he’s been trying to get businesses to voluntarily agree to it for years.

Most store owners did it.

Others said they would and never moved the merchandise.

"As a community, if we allow those things to continue to be displayed, I think that's representative of our community that we allow and tolerate such things,” Landers said.

Landers is talking about explicit items, specifically T-shirts, that are put up in downtown storefronts. Now, there’s an ordinance moving through the city council that would require those shops to put those products inside and warn customers of mature material before they enter the store.

Landers said this ordinance targets sexual references, racial slurs and profanity on clothing that can be seen from the sidewalk. He said he's heard a number of complaints from visitors and families who live in the Dells who have been offended by the words and images on some shirts shown outside.

"I want to be proud of my community. And quite frankly, some of the merchandise that's being displayed in our community is being displayed by people who don't live in our community. It offends me, and I feel it hurts our economy," Landers said.

Landers said the downtown area is growing and expanding, and he would like to see the area re-branded without the questionable comments and graphics facing the public.

Kelli Trumble, owner of Winnebago Gifts in downtown Wisconsin Dells, said she's on board with her neighbors selling more suggestive shirts from inside the store.

She said the area should be as family friendly as possible to accommodate customers.

"Broadway is our first impression. You never have a second chance to make a great first impression," Trumble said.

Landers said he thinks businesses continuing to display the obscene shirts need to have a greater sense of shared responsibility to their customers and their community.

"I don't feel that the Dells overall has to be cleaned up," Landers said. "But I do feel that there are some business owners who don't really want to participate in being part of the community."

Under the ordinance, Landers said shop owners would be subject to a $500 fine for each explicit item in their storefront.

While it could bring up questions of constitutionality, Landers said he's confident in the legal research the city has done that shows the ordinance would hold up in court.

"There's a big difference between a person who wants to have an artistic or cultural expression and a person who's just trying to make a buck," Landers said, "And that's what they're trying to do."

The city council unanimously approved the ordinance in its first reading. Landers expected it to pass in a few weeks, and said the new rule would go into effect immediately.

Most novelty stores on Broadway Road were closed for the season Thursday. The couple of T-shirt shops open did not have managers or owners available to talk about the ordinance.

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