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May 31, 2000 09:00pm
Drive-thru Strip Club
Source: Private Dancer Magazine

(PITTSBURG, PA) -- The presence of sexually oriented businesses is growing across the country, including southwestern Pennsylvania.

From a newly opened nude drive-through to strip clubs and X-rated video stores, the combination of freedom of expression and the business of pleasure keeps sexually oriented commerce alive and well.

"These businesses have been increasing," said Dorn Checkley, director of the Pittsburgh Coalition Against Pornography. "We're eating our hats down here. A couple years ago we predicted these places would die down with the Internet, since it is private, and people don't have to drive anywhere."

However, officials say there are more adult-oriented businesses today, despite anti-pornography groups and an increase in the number of municipalities with ordinances limiting such enterprises.

And it's a nationwide trend.

"We're at an all-time high with the number of adult night clubs compared to 10 years ago," said Don Waitt, publisher of the national magazines Adult Video News and Exotic Dancer Directory/Bulletin.

"There are approximately 2,500 gentlemen's clubs in the United States - a mix of small clubs up to the big clubs. We estimate that at any one time, there are 350,000 to 400,000 people working in the industry."

According to a 1997 issue of U.S. News & World Report, Americans spent more money at strip clubs than at Broadway, off-Broadway, regional and nonprofit theaters, opera, ballet, and jazz and classical musical performances combined. The report also said the number of hard-core video rentals rose from 75 million in 1985 to 665 million in 1996, according to Adult Video News.

Checkley hopes Allegheny County "has reached its saturation point" in adult businesses.

"Adult businesses can't be banned or prohibited, but municipalities have learned from the Ross Townships of the world that having an ordinance helps restrict the location, times of operation and the manner of entertainment," Checkley said. He noted that more than 35 municipalities in Allegheny County have such laws.

Ross Township passed an ordinance in 1996 allowing impromptu inspections of adult businesses and banning enclosed booths for viewing videos. The township won a federal court case in 1997, when an adult business agreed not to have video-viewing booths and to close on Sundays.

The editor/publisher of a free publication that consists mostly of advertisements for adult venues and services is among the few who say the number of sexually oriented businesses in western Pennsylvania has plateaued.

"There was a point a few years ago when there was a glut of new businesses," said Ron Bieneck of The Go-Go! magazine. "That's leveled off greatly because of laws these boroughs and jurisdictions have passed. It's definitely affected a lot of the businesses. It's affected just about everything."

A recent issue of the East McKeesport-based publication sported ads from 21 businesses in Allegheny County and 10 in Westmoreland County, excluding fetish and escort service specialties.

The publication is rife with ads seeking dancers for clubs in West Virginia and Ohio and in Beaver, Washington, Butler and Armstrong counties.

Indeed, the sexually oriented industry brings big bucks to those in the business.

"It's an extremely large business. There's no question," said Carl Max "Toby" Janavitz, a Pittsburgh attorney specializing in First Amendment issues throughout the country. He said the Pittsburgh area doesn't have as many adult businesses as do south Florida and Texas.

One of the local adult businesses recently unveiled a new feature in trying to attract customers. The Climax Gentleman's Club in Salem Township, Westmoreland County, opened a nude drive-through lane in April.

"You need a hook to pull people in," said club owner and operator Nick Frantangelo, who credited employee brainstorming sessions with the ideas for a nude pool and the drive-through.

In April, Frantangelo and five other employees were cited for bottle club violations for dancing partially or completely nude in an area where alcoholic beverages were served.

"We've had the no-alcohol policy since the beginning of May," he said. "We have redefined our purpose - to bring 100 percent nude entertainment to our customers."

Jayme, the stage name of the 6-foot, 130-pound dancer who sometimes dances in the drive-through window, said the club gets a lot of business at the addition, which looks like a lane at a bank or fast-food restaurant.

"We bring a smile and make someone's day," Jayme said of the club. "We're not hurting anyone."

Residents living near adult businesses are not pleased with the enterprise - especially in the case of Uncle Ivan's Playhouse, a potential adult business in Scottdale, Westmoreland County.

Scottdale resident Cindy Frye started Citizens Against Pornography when the owner expressed interest in opening the business.

"Our goal is to try to limit, if not eliminate, pornography in the area of Fayette and Westmoreland counties," Frye said. "We're organizing groups in each county to educate others. We're also working with the American Family Association."

David Miller, national field director of the Tupelo, Miss.-based organization, said numerous studies show that sexually oriented businesses bring adverse secondary affects.

"There is increased crime, from drugs and prostitution to public intoxication, urban blight with graffiti, litter and decreased property values," Miller said. "How can we minimize the adverse affect on our communities? It's an economic issue that can't be legally addressed from a moral standpoint."

Roy Jones, American Family Association representative for Pennsylvania, said pornography destroys families and victimizes women and children.

Checkley believes such groups are "losing the battle in terms of stopping the growth of pornography, but we still have a chance to win the war by changing people's attitudes."

"It's a convenient sexual relief where people don't have to work on a meaningful relationship," Checkley added. "We're doing a lot more with education, by teaching that sexuality is valued and shouldn't be cheapened."

Those in favor of the First Amendment rights of adult businesses claim negative secondary effects are extremely rare when the establishments are operated properly.

Waitt said the majority of people who protest against these clubs have never been inside and have misconceptions about drug use and prostitution.

"It's a lot like when I covered court cases as a reporter," Waitt said. "For every study out there that says there are adverse affects of adult businesses, there is a study that says the opposite.

"If you're a businessman and you know every single move will be monitored, why would he be so stupid as to let that occur and jeopardize his investment? They are running a business so they can make money."

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