Tuesday, 7 November 2006

First Worker-Owned Strip Club Bares Secrets of Managing a Business

by John Koopman, Chronicle Staff Writer San Francisco Chronicle URL: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/chronicle/archive/2003/06/26/BA280244.DTL

The members of the board of directors for one of San Francisco's newest corporations sometimes work naked. They write letters naked. They send faxes naked. Sometimes, they negotiate over the phone naked. It's not just for fun. It's easier that way. Because most of the time, they've been dancing naked upstairs, in the Lusty Lady Theater. And, as new owners of the joint, they sometimes go to the office in their work attire to get stuff done. "It's every man's fantasy," said dancer Donna Delinqua. "But it's true. I had to laugh the other day because there I was, on the phone, negotiating something, and I realized I was completely naked." The women of the Lusty Lady, at 1033 Kearny St., are making history again. They were the first strip club in the country to unionize, joining the Service Employees International Union several years ago. Now, they've bought the club and have become the first employee-owned strip joint in the nation. "It's been a real challenge," said one of the new owners, a 32-year-old veteran stripper named Pepper. Like most of the women at the Lusty Lady, Pepper prefers not to use her real name. Same with Delinqua. There are men out there, customers, who like them a little too much. Not that they're complaining, but restraining orders are not considered good business. They are an eclectic bunch. The dancers come from all walks of life and have a large assortment of backgrounds. They say some have doctoral degrees; some are in graduate school. One dancer is a lawyer. Delinqua said the woman always wanted to be an artist, and practicing law "made her feel like a whore." Now she dances naked for a living. But the Lusty Lady is unique among San Francisco strip clubs. It's one of the few nude venues that uses the "Peep-show" arrangement. The dancers work in a small semicircular room. There are windows to the room, and those windows open to small booths. The customers enter the booth and drop in quarters, which raise the curtain to the dance room for short periods of time. There are no lap dances, no sticking dollar bills under (tax deductible?) G- strings, no physical contact. But it is an explicit show. In addition to the main dancing room, there is a smaller booth where customers can have a one-on-one session with a woman. As with the main room, glass separates the dancer from the customer. Other than that, anything goes. Downstairs are the dressing room and business office, adjacent to each other. Women drift in and out of the dressing room and office, sometimes clothed, sometimes not. The women have great camaraderie, and laugh and joke about each other, boyfriends, strange customers and the business of nude dancing. The dancers joined the Service Employees union in 1995. For the most part, they got along with management. A couple of years ago, management decreased their hourly wages, citing reduced profits, and the dancers agreed. Late last year, as they were renegotiating the contract, they demanded that the cuts be restored. Labor and management reached an agreement on the contract in January. A month later, they received notice that the club would close. That's when the dancers started to consider the idea of buying the club, and making it employee-owned.....

Penney Kome, author and journalist http://penneykome.ca
Chair, The Writers Union of Canada, http://writersunion.ca

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