Memphis strip clubs may soon go from G-strings to G-rated.
Earlier this month, the U.S. Supreme Court announced that it would not hear an appeal of strict regulations for sexually oriented businesses passed by the Shelby County Commission in 2007.
The county ordinance, which was deemed constitutional by U.S. district judge Bernice Donald last year, prohibits the sale or consumption of beer or liquor on strip club premises. It also requires dancers to wear opaque bottoms, cover their nipples, and stay six feet from customers or other entertainers. Club owners and staff will be required to undergo complex licensing procedures, including a review of any criminal records.
The ordinance had been on hold while owners from Christie's Cabaret, Platinum Rose, the Gold Club, New York, New York, the Pony, the Jet Strip, and Downtown Dolls appealed the restrictions.
Now that the Supreme Court has decided not to review the case, the county will ask Donald to lift the stay she put in place while the appeal was pending. Once she does, strip club dancers and employees will have a certain amount of time to get licensed.
"I did a count the other day, and I think it will be around February or March when you'll see changes in the clubs," said Shelby County commissioner Mike Ritz, one of the lead proponents of the county ordinance.
But attorney Edward Bearman, who represents the clubs named in the lawsuit, said they'll continue to fight and "look at all of our options to keep these lawful businesses operating." Though the county ordinance doesn't call for the closing of clubs, attorneys argue that banning alcohol sales and enforcing distance requirements will put the clubs out of business.
"This is designed to run these clubs out of town," said Gary Veazey, another attorney for the clubs. "There's no economic incentive to have a bar where nobody can drink."
Bearman said the economic impact of restricting strip clubs could be huge and referred to a March 2000 Atlanta magazine article that claimed Atlanta's 40-plus nude clubs raked in more money than the Atlanta Braves, Hawks, and Falcons combined.
"If you look at the indirect effect of this ordinance, the club owners can't serve beer, and the girls can't dance topless. If they can't make a go of it, you're looking at a piece of property that would otherwise pay significant city taxes because of its value as an adult-oriented business that becomes a piece of property that no longer has value," Bearman said.
The restrictions apply not only to strip clubs, but adult bookstores, escort services, and other adult businesses. Bearman said the county restrictions are vague and could lead to enforcement problems:
"The ordinance is so broad, in my opinion, that masseuses and hotels that show adult movies could fall under its rulings. We have a problem with where the line is. If they show Hair at the Orpheum and there's nudity in it, I don't see any difference legally between that and any other artistic expression."
Bearman said the city has already proven that it can regulate clubs without interference from the county, as evidenced by the shuttering of Platinum Plus several years ago. He argues that the new county rules simply aren't needed.
"This is not good for the city. This is not good for our clients," Bearman said. "There are obviously people who appreciate this type of entertainment, and those who don't certainly aren't required to show up."