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Politics

The Trump Presidency Ended Next To A Porno Shop

Trump supporters outside a Trump legal team press conference
The author is near the center of this photo in a hoodie and shorts, a traditional Philadelphia form of dress.
Chris McGrath/Getty Images

PHILADELPHIA — Rudy Giuliani was speaking in the back lot of a landscaping company in an industrial zone of the Holmesburg section of the city, under a hazardous materials sign. Things were not going well for his friend and client, Donald Trump.

Just after Giuliani started his press conference, every network in the country called Pennsylvania for Joe Biden. Reporters informed Giuliani of the call, which meant the number of states called for Biden gave him enough electoral votes to become president-elect.

Giuliani looked to the heavens, as if hoping a deus ex machina would come down and fix his problems. Instead, the Trump legal team would have to come up with one on their own, alleging a variety of forms of Democratic cheating—including votes from Joe Frazier, who died in 2011. (Giuliani said he had been dead for just five years; public records confirm Frazier was registered to vote in New Jersey.) The only real evidence the campaign brought out on Saturday was a poll watcher who said he was forced to observe from 20 feet away. This was, basically, the Trump campaign’s best evidence.

The press conference was not very convincing otherwise. “I came to Four Seasons Total Landscaping to see if the president’s lawyers would offer any evidence of the fraud they have been alleging,” The Independent’s Richard Hall wrote. “They haven’t. So I’m leaving.”

But why was it there? Surely the 7300 block of State Road in Northeast Philly had never seen such attention—national and international media descended onto the industrial block. I was there, too, but the Trump campaign would not let me in to cover the press conference. A security worker literally locked the gate when I showed up. Other press was outside, too; we were all admonished for showing up at 11:30 to the press conference scheduled to start at 11:30. In the back lot of a landscaping business. Reporters who arrived a bit earlier were forced to announce themselves as they entered, so the Trump fans gathered outside could boo them.

It ended up being a fortunate break for me and the other reporters on the other side of the gate, and not just because we avoided the booing. Things were more interesting outside.


I was locked out of the press conference by security. My view through the gate made it clear I wouldn’t be able to watch from the outside.

I surveyed my surroundings outside the Trump press conference, which was now being guarded by a line of police officers. I wasn’t going to be able to talk my way in.

As Giuliani and his team spoke, the small group of Trump supporters was joined by detractors across the street. Both groups heckled each other. Howard Caplan, a Far Northeast Philly resident who for the last five years has been holding signs in the center of Roosevelt Boulevard alleging a vast sex crime conspiracy among Democrats, danced in a robe, underwear, and Joe Biden mask.

Though things got a little heated when the police forced Biden supporters to move across the street to the same side as the Trump supporters, it was a relatively low-key atmosphere outside. Both sides engaged in heckling and dancing; one woman in a Hofstra University shirt was incredibly angered when a Trump supporter accused her of being an uneducated layabout on welfare. (She went to Hofstra, you see.)

The landscaping company wasn’t the only store on that block of State Road. Across the street was Delaware Valley Cremation Center. And next door to Four Seasons was Fantasy Island Adult Bookstore—a porno shop. I walked in.

Zarif Jacob was watching election returns as he worked the front desk at Fantasy Island.

It was fairly sparse. Shelves at the front held sex DVDs for various orientations and fetishes; magazines were for sale on the floor; sex toys and pills were stocked, too. The back was a long, dark hallway with booths where viewers could drop in a $3 token to view porn and jerk off. Or, you know, more than that. A sign informed customers: “You must buy $3.00 in tokens each time you enter and re-enter the video booth area.”

Working the desk was Zarif Jacob. A longtime resident of the area, Jacob told me he was once a commercial and residential architect. After retirement, he cycled through a variety of jobs. Now he was working the desk at Fantasy Island bookstore.

I figured he was as good of a person to ask as any: Why was this even here? He didn’t have an answer. “This is so stupid,” he told me. “He lost. He knows he lost Pennsylvania. And he’s losing other states as well.”

As an architect for 25 years, Jacob knew plenty of people in the area who’d dealt with Trump, who once ran casinos in Atlantic City. He was not a fan.

“I never understood why people like him,” he said. “I know him very well. When I used to be an architect, he was building Taj Mahal [casino in Atlantic City]. He screwed a lot of people. A lot of people went bankrupt because he didn’t pay. All his casinos went bankrupt because of him. And he wouldn’t even admit it! He said, ‘Atlantic City went down because the people running it are stupid.’ And you are the genius?”

Worst of all, though, was the parking. Several cars—people who were not intending to purchase any porn—were taking up spaces in Jacob’s lot. He said he called to have two towed away. They were almost immediately replaced by new cars. The Trump campaign’s last act was to interfere with a local small business.

It wasn’t the first time a politician tried to shut down this place. Fantasy Island had been at its State Street location since at least the late 1970s. In June of 1980, then-Philadelphia City Councilwoman Joan Krajewski began a sustained campaign against the bookstore. She helped form a group called Citizens Against Smut the next year. She said “smut dealers” had no first-amendement rights, and she promised to campaign against “goody-goody judges” who said otherwise.

This actually worked! The state passed a law making it illegal to sell porn, and then-Philadelphia DA Ed Rendell had six bookstores and three porn theaters raided—including Fantasy Island. Fourteen people were convicted, including three Fantasy Island employees. City officials tried to shut it down again in 1982; the DA’s office busted into Fantasy Island with a film crew in one raid. The owners got a year’s probation.

A neighbor wasn’t having it, saying the sex shop in an industrial zone was not a nuisance to anyone—and he’d be the first to complain if it were. “Look, if the Lord made anything better than sex in this world, he kept it for himself,” Louis D’Alessandro, the owner of an auto body shop next door, told the Inquirer. “That store can stay there for 50 years as far as I’m concerned.”

It’s been nearly 40 years since D’Alessandro made that quote. Yesterday, the shop stood next door to the end of the Donald Trump presidency.


Trump and Biden supporters argue on State Road outside Four Seasons Total Landscaping.

Back outside, I tried to piece together the situation, watching a feed of the press conference on my phone.

Trump had been alleging election fraud since the last election. Despite winning the electoral college in 2016, Trump said not long after the election that he would’ve won the popular vote, too, if “millions” of illegal votes hadn’t been cast. There was no evidence for this—a nice preview of the Trump administration—but the die was cast. This would be one of his strategies for 2020, as well.

There were still hundreds of thousands of ballots to be counted when Trump declared victory in Pennsylvania the day after the election. As the ballots were primarily mail-in votes from Philadelphia and Allegheny counties, which contain two large, heavily Democratic cities, it was actually pretty clear Biden was going to win the state. No matter. Giuliani and company held a press conference at the airport on Wednesday night, alleging a variety of election fraud. It was unconvincing.

They’d try again Saturday morning. President Trump initially tweeted the press conference would be at the Four Seasons, the famous chain of luxury hotels. The one in Philadelphia is atop the Comcast Technology Center, which the city proudly calls the country’s tallest building … outside New York and Chicago.

Reporters from at least one news outlet, The Washington Post, initially went to the hotel. But, as Trump later clarified, the campaign event wasn’t at the Four Seasons. It was at Four Seasons Total Landscaping. That Four Seasons was founded in 1992, and is one of a variety of businesses in the Philadelphia area—the others are restaurants and day cares—with that name.

Four Seasons Total Landscaping is, by far, the funniest of the businesses with that name to hold a political press conference. It is across the street from a crematorium. It is down the block from Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility, the prison where two Trump supporters were being held on weapons charges.

The pair had allegedly driven from Virginia Beach with several AR-type rifles, and an acoustic guitar, after seeing Trump’s speech Wednesday night where the president alleged massive voter fraud in Philly and said his supporters “have become somewhat violent.” Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner said last week his office was also looking into election code violations-related charges. Their SUV, complete with stickers backing the fantastical QAnon conspiracy theory, racked up parking tickets in the days following.

Initially, Philadelphia law enforcement officials were concerned that the Trump team chose this location for the press conference because they were planning something related to the gun charges. Could they be bailing them out, and planning a press conference with them? This was an absurd scenario; as it turns out, the two men remain in prison. But the thought made more sense than the Trump team holding a presser at a random landscaper in Northeast Philly.

A small group of Trump supporters had gathered outside the (other) Four Seasons. The security guard who barred me entrance from the facility told me Trump’s team was forced to hold the event outside by the state—Pennsylvania officials say no such thing happened—and this was the only place they could do it.

One man wearing a Trump shirt in the style of the TV show Sons of Anarchy, whose accent identified him as a local, told me the owner was a friend of Trump (a supporter, more likely) and that the campaign was interested in helping him out. Later in the day, Trump ally Corey Lewandowski tweeted: “All great Americans in PA use Four Seasons Total Landscaping. They love this country and are American Patriots. Thank you!!” Somehow, I don’t think Four Seasons’ service area carries all over the whole state.

But, most importantly, the Trump campaign wanted a spot with easy access to an I-95 off-ramp. Four Seasons Total Landscaping, which also said the campaign was looking for a site with a convenient I-95 off-ramp and a gate, did offer that amenity. It turns out the location was chosen for no other reason than Rudy Giuliani wanting to spend as little time in Philadelphia as possible before being driven back to New York.

This is basically what the New York Times reported. Trump did think the press conference was at the Four Seasons hotel, which is why he tweeted it initially. It would be tremendously funny if the campaign booked a Four Seasons for the press conference, only to find out it was a landscaping business instead of a hotel. But honestly, that they booked the yard of a landscaping company intentionally, just so that Giuliani didn’t have to spend too much time in the car before and after making baseless accusations of voter fraud? That’s even funnier—and a fitting end to the Trump presidency.

Meanwile, Four Seasons Total Landscaping is left to pick up the pieces. Besieged by criticism for hosting the press conference, the company posted a statement on Facebook this morning. “We thank all of those that have shown support for our business and while we understand the negative comments, it saddens us that we have received such harsh judgement,” they wrote. “Our team at Four Seasons would have proudly hosted any presidential candidate’s campaign at our business.”

The statement ended with, in true Trump fashion, a sales pitch: “For those interested in purchasing shirts, our website will have a Merchandise tab uploaded by Monday Morning, just bear with us! Go Birds!”