By Steve Lange
DOES THE DOWNTOWN NEED A STRIP CLUB
As of now
, the only pole dancing you can find downtown is in the basement of Loving Fun Lingerie.
And that’s just a pole dancing fitness class consisting mostly of women in oversized sweatshirts and sweatpants. Conventioneers are not invited to bring alcohol and watch.
In a country with 400 Hooters restaurants and an estimated 2,500 strip clubs, in a city that draws 2.5 million annual visitors, Rochester’s downtown adult entertainment consists of Loving Fun Lingerie, where you can buy everything from bachelorette party games to aphrodisiacs like “Horny Goat Weed,” and Adult Book and Video, a red, white, and-blue-striped storefront—tucked between Old City Hall and City Cafe—that from the street looks like some temporary Libertarian Party headquarters.
In the early 1990s, during one of the city’s most progressive periods of downtown development—the Peace Plaza and the Galleria had just officially opened in 1989; the flood control project, new government center, and new library would be completed by 1995—the city council, faced with the possibility of the rebirth of Rochester strip clubs, ramrodded through an anti-erotic dance ordinance to ward off a pending gentlemen’s club. In May of 1992, the Rochester City Council made it illegal to, among other things, appear nude in an adult establishment, do an erotic dance within an arm’s length of a customer, or to take tips for such a performance. “You’re going to have adults that are sexually aroused walking in the area,” argued one area man, who presented a 2,400-signature anti-adult entertainment petition to the council, “and I consider that dangerous.”
Even the leather-clad mannequins that once posed in the front windows of Adult Book and Video were eventually removed as part of the settlement of the store’s four-year legal battle with the Rochester City Council. The store got to stay; the mannequins—presumably because of their leather-cladness—were forced into the back room. The gentlemen’s clubs that peppered the downtown in the 1960s and ‘70s weren’t coming back.
The city’s adult entertainment scene, like those mannequins, has been in hiding ever since. Which is fine. We’re not yearning for g-strings and pasties. We have not been saving a roll of singles just in case (which may date the last time we’ve been to a strip club—do dancers even takes singles anymore? Or is it twos? It’s not fives, is it?). But the stance of city leaders and locals on the strip club issue may give some insight on the direction of development.
DENNIS HANSON, CITY COUNCIL PRESIDENT
First of all, I prefer to call it a gentlemen’s club [laughs]. In today’s world they are something you see all over the country. Is it right for Rochester? I think it is for the community to decide. Everyone on the [city] council is pretty open minded, though I don’t think anyone would champion the cause. We get a lot of conventions now, though we have been told from various conventions that they would like some sort of adult entertainment. A gentlemen’s club could have a broad definition. Maybe it would be more along the lines of a Hooters. There are some other places in the metro that are geared toward adults. Not bad places. Upscale. Would I promote it? Probably not. Would I listen? Certainly.
It’s just the world we live in. We used to have plenty of these places. There was The Playpen, Bruisers, maybe six or seven places in Rochester in the old days. I’m not advocating for one, but people have talked about them. It’s something we have to sit and listen to and debate. People do want more things to do. The city would probably not advocate for something like this, we’d certainly discuss it. The great thing about this world is if you don’t like it you don’t have to go there.
BRAD SEGAL, PRESIDENT, PROGRESSIVE URBAN MANAGEMENT ASSOCIATES, THE CONSULTANCY GROUP HIRED BY THE CITY IN 2003
I don’t think a strip club is generally very helpful. We want the downtown to be a gathering place for families. Adult entertainment is not something you want to focus on. You need to think in terms of family friendly and inviting and welcoming. I think when you start getting into X-rated stuff the market is so narrow it’s counterproductive. Adult entertainment that is broad enough is great. That’s fine, but make it something for many different people.
CAROL PRICE, OWNER OF LOVING FUN LINGERIE
Does the downtown need a strip club? Yes, if it’s done right. And of course, being a woman, I think it would be nice if a woman owned it, because it would have a softer touch. You could have a ladies’ night. One of the biggest things for our pole fitness class is bachelorette parties, and you could do something for these groups as well. A lot of the regular bars in town can be quite wild, and a gentlemen’s club might be a little bit more controlled. I do know a lot of visitors ask for it. I think something like a Hooters would be fun. Everyone can go there. We would keep more money in town, because people now drive to Cannon Falls or Austin. The key with a gentlemen’s club is that it has to be done the right way.
BRAD JONES, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, ROCHESTER CONVENTION AND VISITORS BUREAU
I’m not so sure that we’re ever going to attract new business just because we have a strip club, but adults do want a couple of stops when they’re downtown at night. They want establishments where they can eat and drink into the evening. Something that has activity and is open after midnight. Dining establishments, for example, could take a portion of their facility and, after they’re done with the dining hour, could turn into a nightclub type atmosphere. When people visit a downtown destination, they typically visit three or four places within a night. We need more collaboration between businesses so downtown visitors have multiple destinations. We’re trying to start a restaurant association as part of our hospitality group.
I’ve never had a group ask specifically for a strip club. They look at business first. Is Rochester a good place to come? Is it safe, convenient, affordable? We’ve really not lost a whole lot because there is a perceived lack of nightlife. Conventioneers don’t want things like that to compete for attention. So, that’s a little bit of a myth, that the conventioneers want a strip club. We really don’t compete in that marketplace. Some conventions only go to those types of places, like Orlando and New Orleans. But we compete well in what’s called the SMERF Market [which stands for Social, Military, Educational, Religious and Fraternal groups]. These are people who pay their own way to conventions, who are a little bit more budget conscious. For them, it’s more about content than destination.
JOHN KRUESEL, OWNER, JOHN KRUESEL GENERAL MERCHANDISE AND AUCTION CO.
This community needs to continue to strive to make people comfortable coming here for health care. Conventioneers want to go to Duluth or La Crosse and see some color that they are embarrassed about in their own community. The question would be: Are those the businesses and patrons that this community wishes to seek? Let’s have a study and have people vote on it. It depends what face you want to put on Rochester. It should be the community as a whole who answers that question, guided by the council.
ANONYMOUS, PAST PRESIDENT OF CONVENTION GROUP THAT RECENTLY VISITED ROCHESTER
We do poll our club members after each annual convention. We ask them questions about the convention and the city. Members liked the venue in Rochester and its proximity to downtown. A majority of members rated the downtown as mediocre when it came to nightlife. Many were surprised that a city that size had no adult entertainment options. Many wanted to choose a city for the following year that offered more late night activities, and we did that. On the other hand, our club also holds a bring-your-family convention every other year. We would consider Rochester for this convention. I do not know if adult entertainment would bring us back for our adult-based convention. I also do not think it would keep us from choosing Rochester for the family-friendly convention.