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Community standards settle debate over Showgirls Men's Club

Hillsborough County wasn’t successful in its bid to stop Showgirls Men’s Club from opening in Valrico, but a lack of customers did the club in.

BRIAN CASSELLA | Times (2006)

Hillsborough County wasn’t successful in its bid to stop Showgirls Men’s Club from opening in Valrico, but a lack of customers did the club in.

I drive through the intersection of State Road 60 and Mount Carmel Road at least five or six times a week, so I had gotten used to seeing the sign for Showgirls Men's Club.

Now, I'm getting used to seeing the tarp that says Hi-Life Bar and Grill stretched over the bikini bar's sign.

Yes, the once-controversial club is reinventing itself as a sports bar, and a few parents are probably glad they don't have to explain what that old place was all about.

I never fretted about Showgirls, or found it surprising that it went out of business.

What surprised me the most was the original outcry about the proposed opening in 2005. It sparked protests from a group of Christians and rancor from former Hillsborough County Commissioner and current state Sen. Ronda Storms, but neither of those occurrences led me to believe Showgirls wouldn't make it.

I just thought the community would never support it.

Why? Well, I'm not suggesting the Brandon-Valrico area is composed solely of Bible-thumping followers who shudder in horror at the thought of scantily-clad women serving God-fearing men — although a lot of Christians do reside here.

Nor am I suggesting we're a bunch of heathens who simply opted to seek adult entertainment in Tampa instead of a place so close to home — although there might be a few guys (not me, of course) who fall into that category.

Simply, history told me it would be a struggle for Showgirls to survive. Joe Redner's 1990s effort to establish Mons Venus II in Brandon eventually went awry, so I was pretty sure if Joe couldn't make it that Showgirls didn't have much of a chance.

It has to be noted, however, that Redner did collect $235,000 from the county in legal fees because of a protracted Mons Venus II battle that eventually settled out of court.

As Times staff writer Andrew Meacham recently reported, a U.S. District Court similarly awarded Gemini Property Ventures, Showgirls' original owner, $50,000 because the county delayed its opening.

Those are two pretty expensive lessons for the county, and they should not be forgotten. It's fine if the county wants to create ordinances governing adult establishments, but reactionary measures aimed at a specific establishment apparently result only in taxpayer dollars going to the owners.

Given the demise of the clubs, you have to argue those actions proved so unnecessary. I would never deny an elected official's right to govern or a group's right to protest, but it's quite possible that the outcry and the subsequent media coverage helped Showgirls gain attention — possibly extending its existence.

The bottom line: Most people in this community aren't interested in having an adult establishment on a main thoroughfare. I could be wrong, but I think when most of us go to the Home Depot near Showgirls, we want to be reminded of orange strings on a work apron, not spaghetti straps on a thong bikini.

The next time someone decides to open an adult establishment in Brandon or Valrico, let our community standards determine its success or failure instead of calling on government intervention. Believe that the moral tenor of our city — or maybe the general apathy of suburbia — will doom it to failure.

Trust your neighbor.

That's all I'm saying.

Ernest Hooper also writes a column for the Tampa Bay section. Reach him at hooper@sptimes.com or 226-3406.

Community standards settle debate over Showgirls Men's Club 01/15/09 [Last modified: Monday, November 7, 2011 5:40pm]
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