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Strip clubs feel customers’ pain in slumping economy

TAMPA – Men are looking for something more from strip clubs during this slumping economy: a bare shoulder to cry on.

Unfortunately for the industry, though, they’re paying even less for it.

Flirty small-talk is weighed down by customer laments about depleted investment portfolios and struggling businesses, dancers are reporting.

That means men are seeking out older dancers, who appear wiser and better able appreciate the nuances of a difficult time, said Michael Mark, general manager at the Brass Flamingo in Port Richey and the Oasis in Clearwater

“They’re looking for the ones who have the gift of gab,” Mark said.

They have plenty to choose from.

The high-rollers who arrived with the February Super Bowl are gone now and it’s common for dancers to outnumber patrons in many establishments.

In a metro area that offers more strip clubs than Las Vegas, managers are struggling to stimulate the local exotic-dancing economy.

Clubs have slashed prices for admission, drinks and dances. A few have experimented with all-you-can eat buffets.

“This is the worst I have ever seen it in my 27 years in the business,” Michael Mark said.

Angels Show Bar in Seffner closed and reopened under a new name as a regular bar; the general manager blamed frequent raids by authorities looking for dancers pushing customers to by them drinks or wearing attire too skimpy for the bikini bar license.

Platinum Showgirls at 4009 W Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., has not reopened since a fire in late January. Fire officials blamed arson.

Some of the 41 remaining Bay area strip clubs reported spending thousands of dollars improving their businesses for the Super Bowl. A few added VIP “champagne rooms,” where customers get a private dance and a bottle of the bubbly.

But the big game didn’t create the windfall many club managers were banking on. Then the recession settled in.

Revenue at the Brass Flamingo and the Oasis is down about 25 percent compared to last year, Mark said.

Some establishments responded by bringing in guest stars from the adult entertainment industry. Amy Fisher, known as the Long Island Lolita for shooting the wife of her former lover, danced in July at Déjà Vu strip club on Adamo Drive.

Other clubs dropped their cover charge during prime hours and offered buy-two-get-one-free dance specials.

But discounting comes with a downside.

Mark’s clubs tried $1 shots and $2 beer specials and all they got was cheapskates who didn’t pay the dancers, he said.

In better times, dancers could make $200 to $400 a shift, Mark said. “Now they’re lucky to get $100 to $200.”

Some dancers at smaller clubs left with the hope of cashing in at better-known establishments in Tampa.

But they find the same problems — too many dancers and too few dollars — so they’re often back to the old clubs in a couple of weeks.

“They get scared,” said Nora Dowling, a manager at Class Act Show Bar on North Florida Avenue. “They have bills to pay, too.”

But even high-rolling regulars have economized as their fortunes decline.

Mark described one.

“He told me his business was really hurting.”

The man used to drop $300 to $500 a night, including a couple visits to a champagne room with a dancer.

“Now,” said Mark, “we’re lucky to get a couple drinks and one champagne room.”


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