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After students' visit, inspectors say sex toy store violated city code

Minneapolis city inspectors have cited an adult novelty shop in Uptown for code violations after a group of private school students visited the store on a field trip late last week.

City officials sent a license inspector and a zoning inspector in plainclothes to Smitten Kitten on Tuesday after a Star Tribune news report about Gaia Democratic School bringing a sex education class to the store.

Inspectors found that the store did not isolate sexually explicit materials in a separate section of the shop, as required by city code, said Grant Wilson, who oversees business licensing for the city. The store also had sexually explicit materials within view of minors, which is also a violation.

“We’re just citing what we saw today as a violation,” Wilson said.

A couple of parents were angered that they weren’t notified before a dozen of Gaia’s students, as young as 11, were taken to the store last Friday as part of a field trip at the end of months of sex education classes at the school.

The store is being ordered to fix the problems, but no fines or other penalties have been issued, Wilson said. Inspectors said they believe that Smitten Kitten management will be able to reconfigure the store to fix the problems.

Smitten Kitten must conform to more stringent zoning rules because it is outside of downtown Minneapolis, where the restrictions are more lax for adult-oriented businesses, Wilson said. The city has stricter limits on how much of the inventory can be sexually explicit material.

“If you are going to be out in the neighborhoods out of downtown, you can have sexually explicit material, but only [in] 15 percent of your retail floor area,” Wilson said.

Smitten Kitten opened in 2003 and is committed to promoting “an inclusive, shame-free environment where it’s OK to talk about all kinds of consensual sex.” Besides selling sex toys, books and DVDs, the store offers free educational workshops.

The school’s director, Starri Hedges, defended the trip, saying that it was educational and that students were able to talk freely with the sex educators.

Members of Gaia’s school community were expected to gather Tuesday night to discuss the field trip. The school has about 25 students and rents space in a Unitarian church on Mount Curve Avenue.

Minneapolis is only U.S. city on worldwide bike-friendly list

Minneapolis' growing network of bike lanes and a well-used bike share program have landed the city on yet another list of bike-friendly communities -- and this time, it's the only U.S. city to rank among the world's top cities for cyclists.

The latest recognition is from the Copenhagenize Design Co., a Danish design firm that annually publishes a worldwide index of bike-friendly cities. Minneapolis is No. 18 on the list, which is led by Copenhagen, Denmark, and two Dutch cities: Amsterdam and Utrecht. The only other North American city to make the top 20 is Montreal at No. 20. 

Minneapolis is the first U.S. city to make the list since the firm increased the number of cities up for consideration in 2013. No U.S. cities were on the list that year. The three that made the cut in 2011, the first year for the Copenhagenize index — Portland, San Francisco and New York City — have since fallen out of the top 20.

The list’s authors said Minneapolis is “quickly becoming the go-to city in America for building (bike) infrastructure,” noting that the effort has the backing of officials in City Hall.

One of those advocates is Mayor Betsy Hodges, who in a statement Tuesday called the ranking a “tremendous testament to what we have achieved and a reminder of how far we can go.”

The city’s budget for this year includes $750,000 to build protected bikeways around the city.

Ethan Fawley, executive director of the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition, said those improvements are helping to put Minneapolis on the map in several categories, in addition to bike-friendly city rankings. The city has recently received high rankings for its parks and the health of residents, and Fawley said growing interest in biking is among the factors.

“Biking is a really critical part of Minneapolis’ identity and our brand nationally and internationally,” he said. “This time of year, if you go look at the various international and national rankings, biking will be mentioned in a quarter to half of those.”

Fawley said those positive messages can be key in attracting residents who might otherwise have written off Minneapolis because of its cold winters.

The Copenhagenize index makes note of Minneapolis’ status as a leader among cold-weather cities, suggesting that the city do more to ensure bike paths and lanes are kept clear during snowy months.

 

But the authors of the list also suggest that the city would be wise to “stop talking about the winter and to focus on getting a massive ridership during the rest of the year.”

Above: Alexis Pennie, Amy Brugh and Ethan Fawley ride on the Hiawatha Bike Trail in Minneapolis in March. Fawley is the executive director of the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition, and Pennie and Brugh are volunteers. Leila Navidi / Star Tribune