Tuesday, September 25, 2018
Business

'It's not Sodom and Gomorrah,' but Brandon business thrives on consenting couples

BRANDON — Sitting in her office, Sue Harrow laughs at the idea she has any personal connection to the business she runs.

Outside her door is a sprawling bar and space for dancing, a stripper pole, a dancing cage, four life-sized bronze statues of Adonis, glass cases of erotic figurines from Thailand and India, and more than a dozen wooden statues of male and female genitalia.

"Oh, we're not swingers," Harrow says.

Most everyone else is though, if they're walking in here — Eyz Wide Shut, a big purple building without windows in an industrial area on East Adamo Drive in Brandon. The business is divided in half, each with separate entrances — a nightclub on one side and on the other, a motel licensed by Hillsborough County where each week, dozens of couples and a handful of singles spend $15 to $85 to get into the "couples' playground for the sexually adventurous."

The "private play rooms," according to notices on the wall, have a one-hour time limit.

The club will be especially busy this month, said Sue's husband, Andrew Harrow, with the opening in theaters of Fifty Shades Darker — sequel to the erotic romance novel and film, Fifty Shades of Grey.

The name of the business evokes another erotic drama, 1999's Eyes Wide Shut, directed by Stanley Kubrick and starring Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman.

The Harrows moved to Tampa from the New York City area in the early 1980s. Now in their early 60s, they met at Rider College in New Jersey. He was studying accounting and she switched from accounting to marketing to commerce.

After graduating, they ran a sea shell- and coral-importing business and made the move to Ybor City after their warehouse in New Jersey was sold off. They have three adult children.

The couple made some investments that went south, including a failed flea market, but over the years they have found success as commercial landlords. They rent out a parking lot to car dealerships, for example. In the early 1990s, they were approached by some entrepreneurs who wanted to start a strip club.

"Good luck getting the permits for that," Andrew Harrow told them.

His wife wasn't keen on the idea, but the entrepreneurs secured the permits and licensing and paid in full by the first of every month. By the early 2000s, the space had evolved into a swingers club called the Pleasure Palace. For years, it was profitable. But mismanagement by a new owner and government intervention led to its demise around 2007, the couple said.

"We figured we would buy it," Andrew Harrow said. They reopened in 2009 and hired a general manager to run the place, but she was fired the following year. The Harrows, who knew nothing about managing a bar — let alone a swinger's club — took over the day-to-day operations.

Today, Eyz Wide Shut operates under license from Hillsborough County as a sexually oriented business — a category that includes such classifications as a "sexual encounter center," "adult motel," and "semi-nude model studio."

The business is licensed through the Florida Department of Business & Professional Regulation to serve alcohol and sell retail items. The closest homes are a mile away so there are no neighbors nearby to complain.

Sue Harrow said, "Couples are going to the Hyatt to do the same thing. I haven't met a couple yet who says, 'Honey, it's our anniversary. Go get some books from the library, we're going to the Hyatt for the weekend and we're going to read.'

"We admit what couples do in our hotel. It's consensual. It's not your homestead bedrooms," she said, adding also, "It's not Sodom and Gomorrah."

A fan of all things purple and a nut for Vietnamese coffee, she brooks no nonsense. The license plates on her black Mercedes-Benz convertible and the embroidery on her blue-collared shirt read, "Bitch Goddess."

Staff rules are simple, she says: Don't steal, don't drink on the job, don't touch the guests.

Every visitor must walk through a metal detector. Phones aren't allowed in the "lodging side" in order to protect all guests' privacy. Custom-made black vinyl beds are easiest to sanitize. Every penny is accounted for, they say.

Eventually, the couple hopes to sell the club and retire to Thailand.

"People will try to tell me how to run the place," Sue Harrow said. "I just say, 'You buy it and you can run it however you want.'"

Contact Alli Knothe at [email protected] or (813) 226-3434. Follow @knothea

   
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