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This is part of our Taboo Series.

I stripped on and off for over 20 years. And in all that time, I think I met maybe four of the owners of the strip clubs I worked at. I actually spoke more than a few words with only two out of those four. Frankly, in all that time I had plenty of reservations and misconceptions about the people who owned strip clubs. The irony that I have spent the last half a decade trying to dispel the stereotypes and inaccurate depictions of the entertainers and staff while holding my own ill-conceived judgments about the owners is not lost on me.

When my memoirs were published earlier this year, a former colleague suggested that I contact the owner of the club that we worked at to see if he would be interested in helping to promote my book. The club hosts porn stars as feature dancers about twice a month, and the suggestion was that I could feature as well. I scoffed at the idea. But I figured it couldn’t hurt to ask. And when I did, I was surprised to get an answer in the affirmative.

That was when I started to consider my own preconceived notions about this very little-known aspect of the strip club. The elusive owner. As I was delighted to be able to be a feature at the club, and as an author and not a porn star, I was equally delighted when Mark the owner agreed to sit down with me to talk about his business.

This club is located in an industrial park, and the buildings are largely made up of warehouses. Mark owned a floor covering business nearby and noticed that the building that is now the club was for sale. A few years earlier, in 1993, the first fully nude strip club in town opened and was doing extremely well. So Mark obtained the proper licenses, bought the building, and opened his club in 1995.

He received some pushback, mostly coming from a local mega-church. They even went so far as to picket outside his establishment. He offered the protesters free drinks. A small price to pay for the convenient and free advertising they provided his new business. A holy backfire, if you will.

“We offered them water. We’d do whatever we could to keep them here, because that kind of marketing or advertising was great for business.”

He didn’t experience much of the stigmatization that many of the entertainers or other staff talk about dealing with. But other than the protests that turned into an inadvertent blessing, there wasn’t much excitement after that. There was simply no cause for law enforcement or any other entity to want to close down the business. Outside of moral objections fueled by religious puritan ideals, there was no argument about the establishment itself.

I asked him if he felt like this type of business exploited or objectified women as some may assume. “It doesn’t,” he said, “it just gives them a chance to take advantage of the men. The girls are not being taken of advantage of, but are taking advantage of guy’s brains.”

Unlike some club owners I have heard of and met, Mark always treated the business as a business. He runs it much like he does his other investments.  Whereas, other owners can get caught up in the party atmosphere that can be cultivated in many nighttime-based entertainment venues. Viewing the club as an investment and treating it as such has not only made it the top club in town for most of the 27 years that it’s been open, but has also led to an almost non-existent staff turnover.

Mark keeps his business model simple and uncomplicated. There are other clubs that charge the dancers per dance, or require them to be employees. This kind of model can net more money for the clubs, but the minutiae and the time required to keep track of the lap dances and other tips can complicate the workings. Mark chooses to charge a non-exclusive license fee, which works similar to how a hairdresser will pay to rent a station in a salon. The dancers pay to rent the club and the stage to do business as independent contractors. This is not only advantageous to the dancers but it also helps to insulate him from legal headaches.

Recently there was a strip club strike in Los Angeles over safety conditions for the strippers there. I hadn’t heard of it in my circle, and I asked Mark if there had been any rumblings about it on his end. He was completely in the dark about it, as was I. Despite the fact that it was in our home state and made national news. I think this is indicative of the fact that when a club is run the way that this one is, concerns about this type of issue are nonexistent. Aside from minor everyday issues that plague any workplace, Mark’s club is free from the problems that other clubs can have. Among the local strip club community Mark’s club has an excellent reputation.  Which explains the almost zero staff turnover.

         “Basically we just try to make everyone happy, we’re a business and avoid drama. If some drama is coming from a staff member or entertainer, now called artist, then they’ll have to go. Or drama from a customer they’ll have to go. Because we take action when there is drama, there is no drama. By a small amount of enforcement, our problem disappears. We treat everyone fairly as best we can, so that in itself eliminates drama. And that’s why we have been operating the club with excellent staff retention.”

From his perspective, he is fairly removed from the overall community that most of the other staff and dancers feel. As an owner, he just doesn’t experience the same stigmas that bind the other people in the industry together. I believe that comes from the position he sits in and the way that he views the business. It isn’t a taboo or fringe operation from where he sees it.

He does recognize the community and friendships that have formed around his club and others in the area. It would be impossible to miss frankly. Over the years, there have been several deaths of staff that has brought the entire club together in mourning. I have personally had the unfortunate but poignant experience of attending a memorial in the strip club. Where the deceased is eulogized from a stage equipped with brass poles and black lights. You can’t miss the connection that people in this industry develop, and much of that is driven by stigmatization of the work by outsiders.

But that compartmentalization is what helped to create the safe and mostly equitable atmosphere that facilitated the community in the first place. And while I desperately tried and failed to extract from Mark his feelings about the staff and the business, he remained stubbornly stoic and matter-of-fact about it. Insisting that it is just a business like any other.

“It’s like any corporate culture. Any company culture. All staff when they work together they develop friendships and bonds in any work environment. And this is a work environment. There’s not a lot of difference. People interact with the people in their environment.”

A clue into his thoughts might be that he doesn’t view stripping as sex work. Or that it is at least much different than other types of sex work. He sees a very clear delineation between strippers and porn stars and prostitutes. And one of the misconceptions that he does want to correct is that stripping leads to prostitution or other types of full-service sex work. That is a misconception that I have often encountered as well.

“One thing that might be surprising is that a lot of people think this is a gateway, like drugs have a gateway, that this is a gateway to go on to prostitution and other things,” Mark said. “That is simply not the case. It just does not happen. Dancers go on. Get married. Have kids. They go on and get other kinds of jobs. While it’s possible that a dancer might go further and become a real provider or sex worker. It’s extremely rare. I think most folks think it’s all the same and it is absolutely not. Doing a lap dance and having sex is black and white and there is no crossover.”

So while I couldn’t find a humanistic motivation for the way he runs his business, or at least I couldn’t get him to express one, I’m brought back to my first thoughts about him. And my surprise at his support of me and my writing aspirations. Mark has exactly no vested interest in my success as a writer. Hosting me as a feature benefits me. And maybe the staff who I tip while I’m there. And yet he has gone out of his way to print promotional materials, and advertise my appearances. He keeps the erotic store next door to the club stocked with my books. And he very generously sat down while I asked him probing questions about his business. And when I asked him why he offered to do all this for me, he simply said, “I just wanted to do everything I can to help.”

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I am a former adult entertainer, with a love of books, writing and humor. My job has given me a unique perspective on life. I spent twenty years as a stripper on and off and started writing as a way to...