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40 to 50 Percent Drop in Business in SW Florida: Sex doesn’t sell as well during rough recession

Fort Myers – from www.news-press.com – On Wednesday afternoon, Lookers was empty, the bright white lights over the bar shining in the shadowy strip club.

Bartenders filled beer coolers and women wearing neon-shaded string bikinis and clear, skyhigh heels, strolled around, singing along as the children’s tune “Bananaphone” played on the loudspeaker.

What was missing were customers.

Perched on a bar stool, manager George Nardone said customers who used to come to the Fort Myers club on Fowler Street in the afternoon are out of work and can’t afford extravagances like $20 lap dances and $4 beers.

And that’s caused a 40 percent drop in business.

“The girls used to make $350 to $400 a night,” said Nardone, manager for six years. “Now they’re happy to make $150 to $200.”

The recession has hit Southwest Florida’s adult entertainment industry hard.

Strip clubs and shops that sell adult merchandise throughout Lee County have reported as much as a 50 percent drop in business, and Euphoria, an adult shop in downtown Fort Myers closed its doors earlier this summer.

While no statistics are available that prove the decline, shop owners and club managers say the luxuries the industry offers are no longer deemed necessary and their profits have decreased.

Even the recent mention of the industry in national news has not been enough to reinvigorate business. Last week Fort Myers Beach Town Manager Scott Janke was fired when news surfaced that his wife, Anabela Mota, is a porn actress who goes by the name Jazella Moore.

Mota herself hasn’t exactly made much on her profession, Janke said. She makes about $900 a shoot, but it was more lucrative than her other options, he said.

Before the recession, crowds of construction workers fresh off jobs with wads of cash in their pockets would come to Lee County’s four strip clubs, up to 100 of them crowding near the stage to watch the women twirl around glimmering metallic poles.

Couples as well as single men and women would venture into sex shops in droves, looking for a $50, and sometimes pricier, tool to enhance their sex lives.

But Roberta Brothers, who owns the San Carlos Boulevard strip club Fantasy’s at the Beach, where business has declined 30 percent, said customers no longer flock to her establishment as they did in the past.

The bathroom at Fantasy’s at the Beach needs to be repaired and furniture reupholstered. The decline in business has put those renovations on hold, Brothers said.

“Local people don’t have as much money to spend as they used to,” she said.

Twelve years ago, Marilyn Skidelski decided to fulfill a dream and open an adult boutique.

“She wanted a store where a woman would feel proud to go into,” said husband and business partner Shelly Skidelski.

The couple opened Seduction on U.S. 41 in Fort Myers, a store specializing in lingerie and erotic-inspired gifts and toys. The store employs eight women for the comfort of its female customers.

The business did so well during the boom years that it was able to expand around 2007, adding jewelry, wigs and extra toys. But then the economy dropped and so did Seduction’s business, by 50 percent, Shelly Skidelski said.

“We used to think we were recession-proof,” he said.

Marilyn Skidelski said they are still in business because they managed to save enough during the good times.

And Shelly Skidelski is hopeful.

“We’ll weather the storm,” he said, “and hopefully the economy will get better.”

Backstage at Lookers, the strippers get ready to perform, painting on red and blue-colored eye shadow, lounging on the purple leather couches and smoking countless cigarettes, which they say relieves the stress of the job.

Many of the dancers had other jobs before the economy crashed. Some were waitresses. Others were hairdressers.

But now, stripping may be their last option before turning to unemployment lines. At least a $150 a night job stripping is better than an unemployment check, they say, in an area with 13 percent unemployment.

“The girls that came in now have never danced before,” Nardone said. “They just can’t get another job.”

Plus, even though business has slowed, it hasn’t gone away. There are still enough men who arrive at the clubs for bachelor parties and laborers who come in for a beer after work to pay the bills, Nardone said, spending anywhere from $30 to $150.

Jessica Colon, who goes by the stage name Phoenix, started stripping two and a half years ago, right at the height of season. She remembers a time when she would make more than $400 a shift, but at Lookers, she makes maybe a fourth of that.

Now, she’s trying to find other employment, as a waitress, and in the future as a tattoo artist.

“It’s given me a way to do what I love, dance,” said Colon, whose been dancing since she was 5.

Colon calls her 8-inch clear plastic heels her grown-up pointe shoes. “But I’d rather be on stage in a ballet tutu.”

Even with the tough economic times, the industry is still confident there will always be a need for the entertainment it provides.

Brothers said she knows there will always be a place for the 40 dancers she employs.
“As long as there are men around,” she said, “there will always be a need.”

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