Outdoor stripping? Rhode Island club owners skeptical about reopening rules

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — When Club Fantasies was given the green light to offer adult entertainment outdoors last week, the establishment didn’t waste any time. 

By Thursday, owner Frank DeLuca was ready for performers to once again take the stage on their outdoor patio.

There was only one problem: the dancers didn’t want to come. 

“We had one,” said DeLuca, who owns the Sims Avenue gentlemen’s club. The dancers are independent contractors, and when they found out they couldn’t do side dances — the industry term for lap dances — they weren’t interested in coming back to work. 

“They don’t feel they can make as much,” he said. 

The Providence Board of Licenses approved plans for outdoor stripping last Wednesday. The proposal was submitted jointly by four clubs that are usually competitors: Club Desire, The Cadillac Lounge, Club Fantasies and The Foxy Lady.

The four businesses decided to band together in a time of crisis.

“We’re all in the same businesses — what’s good for one club is good for the other,” DeLuca said.

But the theory of welcoming back dancers and customers outdoors has proven less than ideal in practice. Owners and managers from Providence clubs expressed everything from frustration to bewilderment about the state and city’s decision to allow outdoor adult entertainment. 

“Me, personally, I don’t understand how they’re going to allow outside adult entertainment,” said Lori Savickas, the manager of entertainment for The Foxy Lady. “It seems a little over the top.”

Savickas said The Foxy Lady has about 200 people waiting to hear when they’ll return to work, but as of right now, there are no concrete plans to reopen. 

“Hopefully, we get back into business sooner than later,” she said.

Dick Shappy, the general manager for The Cadillac Lounge, owned by his wife, Nancy, said he’s “bleeding financially,” but it might not make sense to reopen right now.

“My club was slated to open this Thursday, but I’m having second thoughts about that as well,” he said. 

He said dancers and staff aren’t interested in coming off unemployment, and customers don’t feel comfortable coming back yet. 

“You’re not making any money, you’re just going through the motions,” he said. 

The four clubs decided to submit their plans to the Providence Board of Licenses after learning the governor’s rules for Phase 2 allow restaurants to have live, outdoor entertainment.

A spokesperson for Commerce RI said establishments like the four adult nightclubs fall under this guidance, too, providing they are following the regulations posted on ReopeningRI.com and receive approval from their municipality, which control adult entertainment licenses. 

“Adult entertainment might not be everyone’s favorite sector of the economy,” the clubs’ plan said. “But it is a constitutionally protected industry that generates millions in income to those who work for these clubs, and substantial local tax revenue which pays for the things we care about most in our city.”

The proposal said the clubs would limit indoor seating capacity to 50%, space tables at least eight feet apart and require customers to wear masks. DeLuca said the dancers would wear masks, too. 

Stages would be surrounded by plexi-glass or a similar barrier to prevent physical contact between the performer and the patrons, and the stages would be sanitized between each performer. 

The licensing board’s chair, Dylan Conley, said the panel’s role is to review the proposal to ensure it conforms to all public health and safety standards.

“During the hearing, the Board of Licenses reviewed, among other safety and nuisance mitigation concerns, the licensees’ proposals to confirm that the entertainment would not be visible from any public point of view,” Conley said in an email.

DeLuca said outdoor dancing has proven less than ideal. 

“That’s all we can do right now, which I don’t understand why when they can have massage parlors open,” he said, lamenting the fact that side dances are prohibited. “Our entertainers, we can have them wear gloves and a mask and have them do a side dance. They’re not going to catch anything standing in front of the guy.”

At The Cadillac Lounge, Shappy said it’s unlikely they’ll reopen now until Phase 3, when he’s hopeful indoor entertainment will be permitted. Gov. Gina Raimondo has said she may move the state to the next phase of her reopening plan around July 1 depending on coronavirus trends.

Until then, the bills keep piling up.

“We’re getting our tree trimmed, I’ll put it that way,” he said. 

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