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Ditching clothes for a digital show: How a Tampa strip club is surviving a pandemic

How do you practice social distancing at a strip club? Jugs of hand sanitizer, caution tape and a strong Internet connection.

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TAMPA — Natasha Guadalupe blew a kiss to the camera as she sauntered across the glowing stage at 2001 Odyssey. By the time she made it to the pole at the end, she had passed by rows of empty chairs.

Before she swung around the pole, she wiped it down with a towel. Colored lights bounced off the large jug of Purell in front of her.

“No live audience,” said the DJ off screen. ”Just you guys.”

"That's right — you don't have to social distance for the camera.”

Like every other nightclub in Florida, 2001 Odyssey was forced to close starting March 17 due to an order issued by Gov. Ron DeSantis. The new statewide safer-at-home order will keep the nightclub shut until at least April 30.

Adult businesses are ineligible for the state’s business relief loans. There’s a lock on the front door, and the booths — normally filled with rowdy bachelor parties and travelers — remain empty.

But this club isn’t finished. Just like business meetings, social gatherings and school classes, pole dances are now done over video chat.

Related: Tampa Bay bars had to close today. Will they open again?

2001 Odyssey developed software to live-stream dancers in the late ′90s, said Don Kleinhans, president of 2001 Inc. The service didn’t work well with internet speeds of the time, but the club brought back streaming a decade later.

While 2001 Odyssey hasn’t heavily promoted the online service in the past, it does have a steady audience of about 370 subscribers that watch from around the world.

A dancer who goes by the name Amy performs at an empty 2001 Odyssey strip club in Tampa in late March 26. [LUIS SANTANA | Times]

After the club closed, those subscribers called, wondering why the stage was empty. So manager Todd Trause fired off a text to the dancers to see who was interested. Within a few days, 2001 Odyssey was back in business, at least online.

Kleinhans said the video streaming doesn’t violate DeSantis’ statewide order because the business “is interacting with customers solely through electronic or telephonic means, and delivering products via mailing, shipping, or delivery services.”

“Broadway shows in New York went dark and they were also live-streaming and broadcasting," Kleinhans said. "We’re really no different.”

New members have been joining since March 17, but membership is about the same as old members leave to tighten spending habits, Trause said. Others left because of the restricted hours: 9 p.m. to midnight Wednesday through Saturday.

Related: That spaceship on top of a Tampa strip club? It once was the house of the future.

Hillsborough County’s safer-at-home order limits gatherings to 10 people — a lot fewer than the 32 regular employees and 300-plus dancers that typically work there. A manager, an IT guy and a DJ come in to man the live stream. Five or six women perform each evening, spaced far apart in their own booths or private rooms around the club as they wait for their turn to dance. A security guard uses an infrared thermometer to check everyone’s temperature at the door.

A security guard holds up an infrared thermometer and scans every person that enters 2001 Odyssey in Tampa. [LUIS SANTANA | Times]

Kleinhans installed industrial UV air-cleaning systems in each air conditioning unit weeks ago. The dressing room is stocked with Lysol, and “hand sanitizer is almost everywhere right now,” Guadalupe said. Layers of caution tape wrap around the stage, marking off a 10-foot radius.

“Even though nobody’s really in there besides us, they’re still going around and wiping stuff down that we’ve been touching," Guadalupe said.

A dancer that goes by the name of Hannah performs at an empty 2001 Odyssey strip club due to measures taken to stop the spread of the coronavirus. Caution tape surrounds the stage to maintain social distancing. [LUIS SANTANA | Times]

In the Before Time, 2001 Odyssey charged $20 to enter the club for one night. In the new world, $23.87 grants access to live stage and dressing room webcams for a month.

Patrons are still expected to tip the dancers. Users purchase virtual credits and click on photos of each dancer to pay them. There’s also the option to “make it rain," the digital equivalent of showering dancers with dollar bills like rappers do in the music videos. When someone clicks that button, the sound of thunder cracks and CGI heart confetti flutters across the entire screen.

A live-streaming camera records dancers as they perform at an empty 2001 Odyssey strip club in Tampa. [LUIS SANTANA | Times]

Guadalupe can see the tips flash across the TV screen facing her and watch as messages pour into the chat box. She waves at the patrons through the camera. Later, when she’s off screen, she’ll type a message to thank them.

Related: Coronavirus: What happens at work when touch is part of the job?

Guadalupe says she used to make between $200 and $600 on Thursday nights. On a recent Thursday, she earned about $75 through streaming, and she gets to take home 85 percent of her digital tips. Every bit helps with expenses like vet bills and car payments.

“We’re all trying our hardest to make sure that we can open, at least online,” Guadalupe said.

A screenshot of before a live show starts on March 26. [Screenshot]

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