Friday, January 02, 2009

The Beginning of the End for Strip Clubs in Houston

Kuff has the story here: The Penthouse Club has officially been closed down by the City of Houston. The club had been closed under a temporary injunction, but the Chronicle reports that it is now permanently closed.
The city of Houston claimed a significant victory Wednesday in its effort to stamp out strip clubs and pornographic boutiques that have set up shop too close to neighborhoods.
A state district judge ruled in favor of the city's attempt to permanently shut down The Penthouse Club, 2618 Winrock, and ordered an owner of the establishment to pay $42,000 in legal fees. [...]
The case was a major test of a new front in Houston's long-running battle to enforce its "sexually-oriented business" ordinance, which has withstood multiple challenges that finally held up under the scrutiny of the U.S. Supreme Court.
The law, which requires such companies to operate at least 1,500 feet from schools, day care centers, parks and churches, has been flouted by strip clubs and porn shops since City Council adopted it in 1997.
But with The Penthouse Club, the city tried a new tack: suing to shutter the business under the city's nuisance laws. Now, the city intends to file a massive lawsuit this month using similar measures to close 30 to 40 of the businesses at once.
Police and city officials believe as many as 120 sexually-oriented businesses in Houston may be operating against the law, although about a dozen have obtained a legal permit.
The punishment meted out is especially harsh. Kuff quoted the Chronicle as saying "The location will be shut down as any kind of business for the next year, and as real estate, the location can never again be used as a sexually oriented business, no matter who the owner is, the ruling states." This line was removed from the Chronicle article when it was updated, though. Kuff points out that having a deserted building might be just as much a "nuisance" as a strip joint.
Now that particular location is kind of a mini-sin-central. Right across the street is All Stars, another strip joint, and in the strip center behind All Stars are two obvious whorehouse/massage parlor-type businesses. But with the city's success with the Penthouse Club, I think the strip joints and massage parlors along Westheimer and Richmond are probably doomed.

So what happens next? Houston has long been a sleazy city, but that could actually change. We're the city that actually spawned a publicly-traded adult entertainment corporation, Rick's Cabaret International (RICK on the NASDAQ). Rick's stock dropped sharply on Monday and Tuesday. The ruling was on Wednesday, but perhaps the sellers of the stock were expecting the worst. (It has recovered somewhat today, Friday.) Now Rick's has clubs in many locations (in eight states), and furthermore, of its five clubs in Houston, only two, the two Onyx-branded clubs, appear to be within the city limits! (The Onyx clubs are aimed at black men.) Indeed, the other three clubs are in unincorporated parts of Harris County. This wasn't always the case--Rick's flagship location was in the Galleria (maybe even where Onyx is currently located, although I don't know this for sure).
The fight between Houston and the strip joints has been going on for years. It has mainly been fought in court, but the clubs eventually lost. Now Rick's is a bit different from the other clubs. It operates nationally, in states where the laws are vastly different. And one thing Rick's knew is that no matter how permanent the status quo seems, it can be changed quickly. New York is the big example of this. You can still go to a strip joint in New York, and there is obviously plenty of prostitution there, as there is in every city, but compared to the way it was before Giuliani's clean-up, one can hardly be believed how different it is. The peep shows that surrounded the Port Authority are completely gone, and Times Square is an orgy of consumerism, not porn and hookers as in the old days.
So given this, and given the apparent seriousness of Bill White's administration to stamp out strip joints, I think Rick's hedged their bets and started moving the majority of its Houston operations outside the city limits. I would not be surprised if they owned or had options on other non-Houston but Houston-adjacent locations. Dudes will have to get used to driving to the edge of town for their bachelor parties.
Of course, the risk is that Harris County, on seeing the success Houston has had, will enact similar laws. Especially if it sees a sudden increase in sexually-oriented businesses in its unincorporated areas. But dudes will always be horny, and there will always be businesses there to cater to them, whether they are legal and above ground, or underground illegal businesses.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Houston has long been a sleazy city, but that could actually change."

Been to Chicago or Tampa lately?
Talk about sleazy.

9:22 PM  
Blogger  Robert Boyd said...

Heh. I wasn't trying to imply that Houston was the sleaziest city... I lived in Tampa, and I think in terms of "sleaze per capita" (a statistic I just made up) that it probably beats Houston, although I suspect Houston's "gross sleaze" is probably higher--just more spread out. Chicago I can't speak to. That may require a little field research.

Of course, NYC shows that this can all change in a relative instant. At least in terms of going from high-sleaze to low-sleaze. I'm sure changes in the other direction are almost always gradual, with the exception of, say, some mining boom towns and the like.

10:56 AM  
Blogger it must be.... said...

That is going to have a major inpact on the city's "high rolling" corporate regulars. Espcially the big conventions that come evey year...."OSHA", big oil companies, etc. All this is going to do is create more oppertunity and necessity for "call girls" and increase the number of high dollar escorts at 5 star hotel bars. Good luck with this Houston. Not everyman wants a woman, but the majority do, especially when "What happens in Houston, stays in Houston"....

8:47 PM  
Blogger  Robert Boyd said...

Maybe, but Houston is not a really big convention town anyway, and the oil companies aren't going anywhere. I think the City would prefer more discreet, high-dollar escort businesses than strip clubs with giant neon signs, anyway. The objection is mostly with the business' visibility.

9:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

READ MY LIPS_no more taxes.

City Of Houston relies heavy on the million tax dollars that clubs generate.
Most oil,gas& builder... conventions that do come in town set up conventions here because of the topless bars.
Years back when it was rumored that Houston,Tx. is closing down all TOPLESS clubs in the city.
Houston started losing conventions to Dallas.

2:26 PM  

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