Bozeman's Only Porn Shop Outlives the Original Uproar

Associated Press State & Local Wire
June 10, 2001

More than 1,000 people turned out to debate an obscenity ordinance after a former priest opened a pornography shop in downtown Bozeman, but that was 20 years ago.

Now Ms. Kitty's hardly garners anybody's notice, and it's a member of the Downtown Bozeman Association. "We're happy to have them," said DBA director Marilyn Tracz.

Bozeman's only pornography store quietly marked its 20th anniversary last month.

"It's almost like we're part of the woodwork," said Billy McWilliams, 40, who has managed Ms. Kitty's for 15 years. However, he is still wary enough to refuse to let a news photographer take his picture.

"We try to be responsible members of the community, which is one reason we're still here," he said.

Ms. Kitty's today contributes to the Bridger Clinic, gives customers safe-sex information with the clinic's free condoms, and works with the regional AIDS Network to promote "positive, healthy sexuality." It even sponsors a women's softball team.

Drive-by gunmen fired three bullets into the store's door not along after "porno priest" John Bauer opened the store on May 15, 1981, naming it after his cat. The crowd that turned out a month later to debate an obscenity ordinance is still the biggest for any local issue.

Opponents such as Bozeman Citizens for Decency said pornography is immoral and anti-Christian and would promote rape, child molestation, homosexuality and the Communist agenda. The American Civil Liberties Union, librarians and university students countered that censorship was the greater danger to American freedom and would threaten every book store and library in town.

The City Commission suspended Bauer's business license, but lost when he sued in federal court and had to pay his attorney fees of nearly $3,000.

Ms. Kitty's seems to have achieved a kind of tolerant acceptance. One secret to the store's survival is that it is profitable. McWilliams declined to be specific, but said profits are modest, not obscene.

"We could double or triple our size and make more money. There's enough demand out there," he said.

But the 1,300-square-foot shop isn't likely to expand, or to leave downtown either. Zoning regulations now would require extensive public hearings and proof that the store had compelling justification. They also restrict any new adult store in Bozeman to industrial areas.

Ms. Kitty's has survived by staying low-key and discreet. Dorothy Bradley, district court administrator and former gubernatorial candidate, has lived in the Baxter Hotel across the street for many years and said she has never heard residents complain about the shop.

In the past couple of years Ms. Kitty's has become more visible, advertising on MTV, ESPN and even the Bozeman Daily Chronicle's At Home magazine, after years of being unwelcome. Its advertising is demure, featuring its logo, a cat's face with a seductive, Mae West look, and teasingly suggestive pictures.

"We have to walk that line," McWilliams said.

"Sexual liberation" was Bauer's battle cry when he opened Ms. Kitty's. He was a 44-year-old former Catholic priest, an associate professor of social work at Montana State University and an outspoken proponent of homosexuality.

He died in 1992 at age 55 of a heart attack in a federal prison in California. He was serving an eight-year term for recruiting young Mexican boys to pose in pornographic videotapes.

Bauer sold his Ms. Kitty's stores in Bozeman and Spokane, Wash., to Alexandria "Alex" Texmo, his former store manager, who still owns the stores.


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