Strip clubs at center of adult industry

July 14, 2002|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

Most of the customers at the nightclub were men.

Most of the women were naked.

Women seductively shed their clothes to thumping music, stepping and whirling on a long runway stage - they were the show. A mostly male audience drank it in with their eyes and with help from the bar.

A spring Saturday night was flowing into Sunday morning in Berkeley County, W.Va., where strip bars draw cheers from customers and jeers from government officials who want to stop them from spreading. During its next session, the state legislature may renew its fight to prevent any new clubs from opening in West Virginia.

Along this stretch outside Martinsburg, near Eastern Regional Jail, women were stripping at Club Venus, at the 50 Yard Line across the street, at Legz Club around the corner and at Opequon Hill Club three-quarters of a mile away on W.Va. 9.


They were dancing on stage for tips. They were hired for one-on-one dances at tables or in private rooms, paid to grind their bodies, sometimes into a customer's lap.

It's gone on this way in Berkeley County for many years.

With eight strip clubs licensed to serve alcohol, Berkeley County leads the Tri-State area in "adult entertainment," drawing a weekly stream of out-of-state customers.

After Berkeley County, other counties in the Tri-State area are relatively, well, bare.

Jefferson County, W.Va., has two strip clubs. Morgan County, W.Va., has none.

Mitzi's, in Funkstown, is believed to be the only strip club in Washington County and Silk Stockings, near Shippensburg, Pa., the only one in Franklin County.

Some suggest that Berkeley County's lack of a zoning ordinance is responsible.

County Commission President Howard Strauss said the county needs to examine all sorts of land uses, including strip clubs, race car tracks, landfills and tire piles.

"I'm not saying zone them out," he said. "At least limit them."

County residents have voted down a previous attempt at zoning laws.

The alcohol factor

Troy Erickson, who owns Legz Club and Legz Platinum, a strip club in Bunker Hill, W.Va., said zoning is not a factor to him; he would open a business in Maryland, which has zoning, if he wanted to.

Instead, the biggest factor may be alcohol.

West Virginia allows strip clubs to serve alcohol. Virginia and Pennsylvania don't.

Maryland bans alcohol in strip clubs in most counties, including Frederick; Baltimore County is one of the exceptions.

Washington County, in which alcohol is banned at strip clubs, has an alcohol exemption for nudity at Washington County Playhouse and theaters with liquor licenses.

"It goes hand in hand - strip clubs and alcohol," Strauss said.

Private clubs in West Virginia - including strip clubs - can stay open until 3 a.m. on Sunday and 3:30 a.m. the rest of the week.

Maryland makes clubs close by 2 a.m., which may explain why most of the 50 or so cars in the Club Venus parking lot in the wee hours one Sunday morning had Maryland license plates. The rest were from West Virginia, Virginia and Pennsylvania.

While Maryland requires dancers to stay six feet away from customers, West Virginia simply prohibits contact between dancers and customers, so they're sometimes just a few inches apart.

"There is less state regulation (in West Virginia) and no county regulation, so it's open season," Strauss said.


To get into Legz Club, you stand in front of a plain white door and ring a buzzer. A bouncer lets you in, checks your ID and collects $5 for the cover charge.

This night, a celebrity is in the house.

Men rise from their chairs to crowd around the stage and watch the poised Lucy L'Vette - a runner-up for Miss Nude Exotica Northeast - perform.

Chastity, Jasmine, Sunshine, Angel, Jersey, Eclipse and other Legz Club dancers stop what they're doing to watch, too.

L'Vette chooses men from the audience, one at a time, to join her on stage. L'Vette gives a few Legz Club dancers the same treatment. The male audience cheers.

Unwanted attention

Strauss said the prevalence of strip clubs has created a notoriety the county is better off without.

"Our preference would be to be known as economically vibrant, with a high quality of life and a family (place), and high morals," he said. "(We should be) more known for our number of churches."

"Berkeley County has become the Little Babylon of the Tri-County area," said Berkeley County Commissioner John Wright, a retired Lutheran minister. "There's almost anything in the county that people are looking for, and the number of alcohol outlets far exceeds what the county needs. ... It's a regrettable situation that the county has regressed to this level."

Strauss and Wright said they consider nude dancing at clubs to be immoral.

Kylie - her stage name - dances nude at Legz Club. She said critics should inform themselves before they pass judgment.

"They need to come and actually see what happens and what goes on," she said. "Sit and talk to a dancer. They would realize we're not doing anything wrong."

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