There are many stories of communities resisting the opening or operating of strip clubs and those communities are often successful in pushing clubs out of areas where they could operate relatively safely and into areas where they are less able to do so. Some zoning rules limit strip clubs and other sexually oriented businesses to industrial zones and other spaces where there is little other nighttime activity, or where the other nighttime activity is also likely to contribute to rowdiness and disorderly conduct. Anonymous areas off of highway interchanges come to mind. While driving from New York to Georgia last December, my partner and I noted how often as we crossed state lines, there would be a zone of marginally legal activity — Fireworks!! Live Nude Girls!! — that seemed unowned by the “decent” people in either state.
Yet, as New York City is finding out, zoning clubs into industrial areas does not make them less likely to be associated with crime. Sweet Cherry, a club that the New York Times has printed no fewer than three articles about in the last month, operates in a perfectly legal spot, and has been with at least three murders, either directly or indirectly. Meanwhile, clubs that are operating in violation of the controversial zoning rules that the city has been defending for several years tend not to be associated with crime problems (partly, I’d argue, because they are in busy retail/commercial areas which, in NYC, are also often residential areas and are places where lots of people are paying attention).
The most recently article by the Times indicates that Sweet Cherry has finally been closed, but not as a result of zoning rules. Rather it has closed as part of a plea deal that will resolve several criminal and civil complaints. Not all strip clubs are associated with crime. Studies by researcher Daniel Linz and his colleagues have demonstrated no greater number of criminal complaints around strip clubs than around demographically and economically matched areas surrounding non-strip night clubs. Clubs that generate criminal complaints ought to be investigated. Club owners who participate in or enable criminal activity ought to be prosecuted, as should any club employee or patron who commits crime. Clubs that cannot operate within the law ought to be shut down as a result of their violations. But the law itself should not create a situation where crime is likely to occur. That is what NYCs current zoning rules would do if enforced.
Hosting sexually oriented businesses on busy main streets in our own towns would be healthy for our communities and for the businesses. In addition, it simply isn’t fair to push the meeting of our erotic needs off on other communities.