Repressed

Arlington says Hooters threatens its moral fabric. Wait, what year is this again?

There are soccer moms at Hooters. There are soccer moms and their soccer kids in their soccer gear at Hooters. There are soccer dads here, too, on this Saturday night in April, but the stereotype goes that men are supposed to be here, so the soccer dads go unnoticed.

Because what's amazing about this scene are the females. They're everywhere. They're not just tending bar or taking orders; they're also drinking beer or feeding their infants or waiting for a table.

None of those waiting or seated elsewhere seem offended by the Hooters girls' attire. But other women and men in the nearby community are offended. These others, a collection of nearly 1,300 conservative Christians by some estimates, don't like the low-cut, tight-fitting tank tops. They don't like the shorts cut high on the butt. They don't like Hooters. They say it's fine in an entertainment district, but here, in southwest Arlington, not two miles from a densely residential area with 12 churches and two high schools, well, it's offensive to the community's sense of decency. They say alcohol served to young men by Hooters girls is a "volatile mix." They think the place is a breeding ground for sexual deviants.

"I think it's a crock," Carrie Minter says of the Partnership for Community Values, the neighborhood group opposed to Hooters. Minter finishes the last of her Hooters fries, steals a glance at Payton, her 8-month-old seated in a high chair at the end of the booth, and continues. "I don't think it's fair to the rest of the residents. We're more than comfortable with our children here." She looks down then returns her gaze. "I think it's embarrassing for Arlington."

For nearly three years, Hooters and the Partnership for Community Values have gone at it in the courts of Tarrant County--PCV wanting Hooters out of the area, or, failing that, its beer license pulled. To a large extent, PCV has succeeded. This Hooters at 5821 W. Interstate 20, just off of Little Road, had its second beer application denied in March. (Its first application was denied by the 2nd District Court of Appeals. The Texas Supreme Court later refused to hear the case.)

Hooters is appealing the March decision. Already it has lost. In April, a district judge ruled in favor of the denial. Still, Hooters forges on, appealing to the next court, and the next, just as it did with its first application.

Because, for Hooters, this denial is lunacy. Scott Wilkinson is the executive vice president of Texas Wings, the Hooters franchisee in Texas. The communities surrounding any Texas Hooters have never had a problem with sexual predators prowling the restaurant, he says. Nor has there ever been an increase in sexual crimes in the area surrounding a Hooters. Especially the Hooters in question. Denying the Arlington Hooters a beer license, he says, is "bullshit."

It's also legal. In the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Code, there is a clause that allows a judge to refuse a beer license on the grounds that granting it will offend "the general welfare, health, peace, morals, safety [or] sense of decency of the people."

PCV chose this clause as its argument against Hooters long ago. (No one from the group agreed to an interview with the Dallas Observer. Information about PCV was pieced together through court documents, newspapers and interviews with lawyers and public officials.)

In the end, that's what the whole case comes down to: the lunacy of the claim, and the legality of it.

At the initial hearing to approve Hooters' beer license in 2001, an outraged group of 30 came into the courtroom with stickers on their shirts that read, "Protect Our Children," and petitions in hand from some 1,300 people opposed to the ongoing construction of the restaurant.

Seven people spoke. Two were psychotherapists and Arlington residents. They each warned of the sexual macabre-ness of the restaurant. Said one of them, Wade Hemminger, "The danger...is that we're just adding to a tremendous amount of sexual messages that our children are getting." Hooters, he said, would create "an undue exposure in our neighborhood."

Bill Zedler, then the chairman of the community group (and now the state representative for southwest Arlington), said, "I think the major issue is you're mixing this very salacious sexual atmosphere with alcohol, and you're putting it in a residential neighborhood."

Arlington Councilman Ron Wright agreed.

It took Tarrant County Judge Tom Vandergriff until January 2002 to issue a ruling. He denied Hooters' beer license.

"There is a difference between Hooters' manner of operation and other TABC [Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission] licensed establishments in the same location," he wrote. "That difference is the widespread, pervasive and management-condoned policy of using sex appeal to target a specific segment of the population to sell alcohol, food and merchandise...The local community sense of decency is contrary to the business method or manner of operation at the proposed location."

Hooters appealed. Visiting district Judge George Crowley in late February 2002 heard testimony and sided with Hooters, overturning Vandergriff's decision.

On March 13, 2002, one week after the restaurant opened, the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission made it formal and granted Hooters its beer license.

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