When coronavirus put an end to business as usual, all manner of leisure activities grounded to a halt. Businesses that were deemed to be non-essential included just about every business that wasn’t a pharmacy or a grocery store – so naturally, strip clubs were forced to close shop.
As congress scrambled to put an aid package in place for the industries hardest hit, those in the adult entertainment industry were specifically exempted from collecting unemployment. Managers and owners, too, were prohibited from collecting small business aid. Strip clubs, their employees, and patrons had to figure out how to adapt –quickly — for the socially distant future.
A few enterprising clubs, in Oregon, Texas, Nevada, and Oklahoma, decided a drive-thru experience might generate enough revenue to keep their employees paid during the pandemic. Because most governors shut down nonessential businesses, the only way to remain open was to rebrand as a restaurant serving take-out.
In one of the most successful models, implemented by The Lucky Devil Lounge in Portland, owner, Shon Boulden, added both a home-delivery and drive-thru experience for customers. In an interview with Cosmopolitan, he described the updated experience, “Customers can come and pick up their food, which is still being made by the club’s kitchen staff on-site and then, for $30, enter a drive-thru tent in the club’s parking lot.” According to Boulden, “the service has seen lines of cars wrapped around the block ever since it opened mid-April.”
Look But Don’t Touch
Vivid Gentlemen’s Lounge in Houston, another club to adopt the drive-thru model, takes their patrons’ orders up front before they pull into a white tent for a two-song dance. When their order is ready, they pick up their grub and go back home. Vivid’s manager, Gino DiLollo, explained to the Houston Chronicle that the new model is not nearly as profitable, but it keeps cash in their employees’ pockets. Dancer Jada defended her work, saying, “I definitely think it’s essential. Everybody needs entertainment, everybody needs their hair done, everyone needs something…And we’re doing a good job of keeping [the entertainment] within the limits of what we can do.”
Never one to be outdone in the world of adult entertainment, a Las Vegas establishment, Little Darlings, super-charged the drive-thru experience by offering 10-minute private shows at $100 a pop and hand sanitizer wrestling, according to the Reno Gazette Journal. The club’s management released a statement to address criticisms that the strip business model was incompatible with social distance guidelines: “Little Darlings is abiding by all social distancing guidelines suggested by the government. As a fixture in Las Vegas for 30 years, we will remain open and continue to offer nude dancing,” adding, “America is a free country, and strippers will continue to be a part of the fabric of American life.”
Virtual Tip Jar
Of course many clubs, like most companies, turned to video conferencing to keep the cash flowing. The Atlanta Journal Constitution profiled a set of clubs that planned a $20 per month subscription model for a handful of local dancers, performing pre-recorded sets. The New York Post talked to dancers who have seen their earnings stabilize with the online model, though they have had to compete with full-time “cam girls” and “‘fitness models, restaurant workers, and influencers”— in other words, people whose regular livelihoods are in jeopardy due to the shutdown.”
While other nations have recognized adult entertainers as legitimate professionals, the U.S. is behind the curve in regulating the industry. Without regulation, workers are more vulnerable to exploitation than in other industries, though their business is just as vital to the economy as any other. Economists estimate that adult entertainment generates between $12 and $20 billion each year.