TAMPA — These are no days of excess. The unemployment rate here hovers around 12 percent. The Buccaneers' perennially full stadium languishes half-empty despite the team's winning record.
People don't have a lot of loose dollar bills.
The name is Scores. And what's really for sale is skin.
"I hope that name does something for them," said Brie Marchant, 23, a dancer at the Mons Venus strip club down the street. "There's nobody making money right now."
More than a decade ago, disc jockey Howard Stern popularized Scores with sexy tales that made fanboys drool. Madonna and Russell Crowe were spotted there. So were members of the mob, the New York Yankees and New York Knicks.
Starting with a single location on the east side of Manhattan, Scores grew into a national chain that helped push curtained strip bars out of back alleys and into the mainstream.
But its newest location in a strip mall on Dale Mabry Highway will face intense competition.
Club managers estimate there are at least 40 strip clubs in Tampa, a major reason the city is sometimes referred to as the strip club capital of the United States. Several are within a short drive of Scores.
"Can they all stay in business? I don't know," Mons Venus owner Joe Redner said of the new addition. "They may bring more adult customers into the area. If they do, I'm going to get my share of them."
Inside the 6,500-square-foot Scores, high-backed velvet chairs sit behind glass walls for patrons who scan a menu of lobster and grain-fed, center-cut, prime beef. Customers can choose between seven champagne rooms and 12 private areas, with granite countertops to hold the drinks.
"The successful people are still spending money. People are still going out,'' said Duke Mendel, the owner of Scores.
He concedes they aren't spending as much. That's why the club has instituted nightly drink specials and $10 cover charges.
He feels confident Scores will succeed because it's located at a site near the stadium and Interstate 275 that he had been eyeing for 13 years.
"Location, name and management team," he said ticking off his assets.
Mendel used to co-own the Penthouse Club, which, along with another West Shore club, Thee Dollhouse Lounge, are considered Scores' main "high end" rivals.
Penthouse Club owner Gene Osteen says his business is down about 30 percent since the recession.
"Really, I hope they do well," Osteen said of Scores. "But I think they'll need all the help they can get."
The strippers are feeling it, too. Michelle Smith, 35, has to twirl, contort and lap dance for 10 hours at the Mons Venus to make what she said she used to earn in five.
"Even with our reputation, we've certainly slowed down," longtime Mons manager Lorry Kasner, 45, said. "I don't know how they'll come in and make a spin of it. I guess they think they'll make it on their name."
Justin George can be reached at (813) 226-3368 or [email protected]