The prom-dress-pink store, with strips of ribbon dangling in the windows and a breast-cancer-awareness sign out front, looks like any girly gift shop in West Chester's bustling business district.

But the Feminique Boutique, a new adult novelty store, has triggered a tempest, with a local pastor and a candidate for state representative saying the shop does not belong in the heart of downtown and, more important, one block from a Catholic school.

"It's corrupting the morals of children," said Msgr. Edward Deliman of St. Agnes Church, who alerted his parishioners at Sunday Mass.

His curiosity had been piqued by the name and the bright pink facade. And while he did not take a peek inside, "I knew what was going on," he said. "It was an adult something-or-other. And it's cheapening human sexuality."

Shannon Royer, a Republican running for a state House seat in the 156th District, has spoken out against the shop on the campaign trail. Its location so close to St. Agnes, where he is a parishioner, is "very troubling," he said in an interview

Last week, the church filed an appeal of the building permit issued March 31 to Jill McDevitt, 22, a recent college graduate with a degree in sexuality, marriage and family, and a desire to be a sex educator.

McDevitt, who lives in Oreland, opened the store May 3 on Church Street to sell the risqué lingerie, toys and lotions that she had been hawking at private "passion" parties, and to offer sex-themed workshops.

Since then, Feminique Boutique has gotten more publicity than most small ventures begun on a shoestring, thanks to its very vocal detractors.

However, "to give it silent assent would not be good either," Deliman noted.

Sex shops are a fact of life in more cosmopolitan places, but West Chester is a small college town - one where zoning officials wore bulletproof vests to meetings about the expansion of a Planned Parenthood clinic in the 1990s.

On a recent lunch hour, a steady stream of curious customers wandered in to check out the skimpy outfits, games and creams displayed in the front of Feminique Boutique, a former Latino restaurant and bar. In a closet-size back room that was once the kitchen are more daring devices.

"Victoria's Secret has more revealing stuff," said Toni Rosati, 49, who had been in the previous day and was back to buy a T-shirt - a breast-cancer fund-raiser with two large baseballs and the words "Save 2nd Base" on the front.

"I don't find it offensive," she said of the shop, "but some people probably do, and they shouldn't come in here."

Customer Sam Dickerson, 54, a truck driver for West Chester University, said: "We put sex in the wrong box. Sex keeps you healthy. We need all this stuff, especially when you get older and things are slowing down."

McDevitt said she had gotten overwhelming community support. In Burger King earlier, she said, a woman shouted out: "You keep fighting the good fight, woman."

Strangers stop by to offer a kind word.

"I'm worried about her. All this is ridiculous," said Charlie Silvestri, who works down the street at WCOJ-AM (1420) and Colonial Metal.

Royer, the candidate, said he didn't object to the store, just its location. With a pizza shop next door and a Pretzel Factory across the street, he said, the block is a magnet for St. Agnes kids.

While on the Borough Council in the 1990s, he helped pass an ordinance banning adult entertainment in West Chester. McDevitt's store doesn't fall into that category, so it was approved - although with conditions such as discreet packaging and signs and no sex-toy parties on the premises, said Mike Perrone, director of building, planning and zoning.

To avoid future firestorms, the borough is trying to tighten rules on adult novelty shops so they can't open downtown. But Perrone said he saw nothing lurid about Feminique Boutique.

"If you stand outside and look at the building, you would go, 'What's the problem there?' " he said.

McDevitt "has guts to face the lions," he added, noting she sat quietly Tuesday as about 150 people, many from the town's four parishes, criticized her shop at a Planning Commission meeting.

The church's appeal is in the hands of the borough solicitor.

McDevitt's biggest fans are her relatives, who helped paint and decorate the shop. The former gymnast and straight-A student, they said, is not only tough but smart and determined.

"She's a really good kid," said her father, David, a computer programmer who lives in Oreland.

Growing up in Upper Darby, McDevitt wanted to be an English teacher, since she loved to write. But she was curious about human sexuality. When she saw an expert interviewed on MTV about masturbation, she changed her career goal.

She read everything in the library on sexuality, then majored in psychology at East Stroudsburg University. There she wrote a popular sex column before transferring to the University of Waterloo in Ontario to study human sexuality.

And, no, she wasn't a sexually active teen, she said.

"Children that have access to age-appropriate and nonexplicit sexuality put off the age of their first intercourse," she said.

With limited job prospects after graduation, she decided to open a business.

"I knew it would be challenging," she said, "but other people do it. Why not me?"

Her grandmother, in whom she first confided her ambitions, encouraged her.

"I said, 'You go girl,' " said Joyce McDevitt of Clifton Heights, who works in a day-care center. "I also said, 'Be prepared, because you're probably going to get trouble.' "

If the complainers went into the store, they might not object to what they saw, said McDevitt's mother, Sarah McNelly, a nurse from Cinnaminson.

"They're picturing some of those sex stores in Philly," she said. "It's not like that."

Contact staff writer Kathy Boccella at 610-313-8123 or kboccella@phillynews.com.