Rubber Match

It's Southern Bell's Yellow Pages versus safe-sex shop Condomania in a battle over morals and money

GUNS! UZIS! AMMO! South Florida's largest selection of assault systems."
"CENTERFOLD MODELS! Available 24 hours for personal escort services. Discreet. Professional. Credit cards accepted."

"SEXY WONDERS! Corsets. Garters. Adult toys beyond imagination."
These are just a few of the temptations beckoning those who have been finger-walking through Southern Bell's Greater Miami Yellow Pages for the last year.

Most provocative of all is the advertisement that tops page 1446. Here curious consumers will find a bleached blond woman lying on her back, her suspiciously firm breasts barely cropped out of the photo. "Showgirl Revue -- Known for our bachelor parties," the text reads, perhaps unnecessarily. "Featuring continuous nude dancers, female boxing & tag team wrestling."

Just a few inches away, on the facing page, sits a smaller advertisement, an ad that the folks at BellSouth Advertising & Publishing Company apparently find just as risque as these others, if not more so. The ad is for Condomania, a national chain of eight stores that offers more than 300 varieties of prophylactics, along with such items as condom earrings, bawdy greeting cards, and "personal lubricants." In the past three years, both Condomania and competitor Condom Sense have turned a healthy profit by beaming a spotlight on the safe-sex paraphernalia once tucked away in the back of drugstores.

But Kevin Burns, owner of the Condomania outlet on Washington Avenue in Miami Beach, says the spirit of enlightenment hasn't quite rung true at BellSouth. In fact, last year he recalls having to lobby the company for weeks before they would allow him to use the word "condom" in his ad at all. BellSouth eventually relented, but insisted that the ad be listed under the heading "Novelties." "We're not a novelty store," Burns protests, "but that's sort of their catch-all category. I asked them to put us under 'Gift Shops.' I even filled out a form to create a new 'Condoms' heading. But I never heard back from them."

When Southern Bell's 1993-94 directories are distributed later this month, Condomania's display advertisement will once again be found under "Novelties." Recently, though, Burns believed company officials had undergone a change of heart A at least when it came to Miami Beach Yellow Pages, a smaller version of the big book devoted exclusively to Beach businesses and distributed in January. Late last month sales representative Norberto Garcia called Burns and offered him a prime advertising spot: the inside of the back cover. Burns leaped at the opportunity and committed to a full page. A contract ($168 per month) was faxed over for his signature. He faxed it back that same day. End of story.

Sort of. Two weeks ago Burns received a call from Garcia's supervisor, Barry Taylor. According to Burns, Taylor said the company was going to have to renege on his advertising contract. "He told me that I couldn't have the back inside cover because my ad would upset the moral standards of Miami Beach. I said, 'But you solicited me!' He told me the legal department in Atlanta had made the ruling. I said, 'Why are a bunch of lawyers in Atlanta determining the moral standards of Miami Beach?' I mean, our government's spending millions and millions of dollars trying to promote safe sex. It's not like I'm on some crazy fringe here."

Neither Norberto Garcia nor Barry Taylor would comment on the Condomania ad; all questions were referred to Margie Amato, BellSouth's spokeswoman for the Southeast. "We have certain criteria for the back cover and inside page because those are considered sensitive advertising space," Amato explains. "We do not allow anything we consider controversial in those spaces. For instance, we wouldn't allow the lottery to advertise there, either. We have the majority of our advertisers to think about." The definition of "controversial," she confirms, is formulated at corporate headquarters in Atlanta.

In the case of the Condom Sense store in Key West, anxious condom hunters have had to check the "Pharmacies" section. "We've had all kinds of problems with our ad," laments Brian Vickery, owner of Condom Sense stores in Key West and Coconut Grove. "People are constantly calling us to get prescriptions filled. I've had discussions with the phone book people and all I can remember was that it was not a situation where it was easy to place an ad, like you'd expect."

BellSouth's Amato says condom purveyors are welcome to submit a letter requesting a new heading for condom shops, as Burns did last year. "I'd be happy to pass it along to the 'headings review board' in Atlanta," Amato offers.

But Condomania's Kevin Burns says he wants his Miami Beach Yellow Pages contract honored for a full page on the inside back cover. Last week he retained a lawyer. "If these people want to argue that advertising a condom store in the phone book would upset the community standards of South Beach," Burns vows, "I'll be happy to meet them in court.

 
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