After 13 years, multiple lawsuits and a slew of court filings, there’s no more nude dancing in Sandy Springs.
The city’s three strip clubs closed earlier this month, having exhausted their appeals in a 12-year legal battle with the city. Sandy Springs had denied the venues alcohol licenses since it formed in 2005, and the clubs’ owners closed voluntarily in early September after a judge in Fulton County Superior Court intimated she would uphold a proposed injunction that would have stopped the clubs from both selling alcohol and having nudity.
Without city liquor licenses, the clubs would have been fined, or workers there arrested, if they served alcohol after the Sept. 5 hearing, said Dan Lee, the Sandy Springs city attorney. Cary Wiggins, who represented two of the strip clubs, said the venues could not stay open if they could not sell alcohol.
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“Even movie theaters anymore have figured out to be profitable, it’s good to have beer and wine sales,” Wiggins said. “It’s kind of like telling Starbucks they can’t sell any products with caffeine. They closed voluntarily, but they knew they had to.”
Signs on the doors of Mardi Gras and The Coronet Club & Doll House say they are “closed indefinitely” because Sandy Springs “disapproves of our industry.” Mardi Gras, on Powers Ferry Road near Northside Drive, also says it is the city’s opinion “that this type of business and its customers are immoral.”
Outside Flashers, a handwritten sign simply says, “Closed for business… will not be reopening!”
Sandy Springs has long had its eyes on its adult venues, and one of its first acts upon becoming a city in December 2005 was to draft an ordinance that would prohibit alcohol sales at strip clubs, require dancers to be at least four feet away from patrons and limit hours from 8 a.m. to midnight. At the time, Mayor Eva Galambos said the venues “don’t fit what the business community is trying to do.” She and other members of the first Sandy Springs City Council said they worried adult entertainment would hamper redevelopment along Roswell Road.
Other governments are also battling with their nude entertainment venues. Doraville is involved in long-running litigation with Oasis Goodtime Emporium, while Brookhaven recently cut back the hours for the Pink Pony. Wiggins said he did not know how the Sandy Springs case would affect other litigation in the state.
Government overreach concerns
On Thursday evening, the parking lots of all three Sandy Springs clubs were empty; the open and welcome signs were not lit. At Flashers, a stool and chairs for bouncers were still outside the door, and an empty Corona beer bottle sat on top of a paint can. A Budweiser sign still advertised a free lunch buffet.
Across the street on Roswell Road, Ashley Williams said she was angered by the closure. Flashers patrons often come to the Waffle House where she works, and Williams — who danced at Follies and EyeCandy under the stage name Stormi — said she had hoped to get a job at Flashers, too. She called the closure tragic.
“We need that club,” she said. “It brings in business.”
Employees at the Xhale City smoke and vape shop, Roswell Package and the Shell station nearby also said they expected to lose business because the club is gone.
But other business owners and residents near the clubs were worried about safety. They couldn’t cite specific problems that the strip clubs caused, but felt that another business would be less dangerous.
Safety was front of mind for Joey Butler, whose two kids go to Imperatori Karate in the Mount Paran Walk shopping center across from The Coronet Club & Doll House on Roswell Road. The club is degrading to women, she said, and she’s not sad to see it go.
“I think it’s disgusting,” she said. “This is a family place.”
Steve Brown, who works in the same shopping center, said he was uncomfortable with the club being in areas where there are also children. The building sits right next to Bellini, a children’s furniture store, and in addition to the karate center, a store that sells school uniforms is across the street. Cindy Gomez, a stylist at Belle De Jour, said without the club across the street, more people might come to the area.
But others were torn about the closure. Joel Jackson, the general manager of the Rocky Mountain Snow Ski Shop down the road, said he wouldn’t mind a new restaurant in the area. At the same time, he’s wary of the city overreaching.
“I don’t want to legislate anybody’s morality,” Jackson said. “They might start legislating mine.”
Wiggins, the attorney for Mardi Gras and Flashers, said that’s why residents of Sandy Springs, and elsewhere, should worry about the closures. He called Sandy Springs’ 12-year legal battle “almost fascist.”
“In the battle lines with the First Amendment, you should always be focused on the edge,” he said. “It’s the old, ‘And then they came for me,’ thing.”
Lee, the Sandy Springs attorney, said he was “very excited” that the city was finally victorious. It’s been recognized that nude entertainment brings a bad element to areas, he said, and depresses property values. In a Sandy Springs city council meeting, a Mardi Gras employee countered that claim, saying property values have continued to rise and there has been no increase in crime in the area. Census data shows the median home value in Sandy Springs was $421,600 between 2012 and 2016.
Earlier this year, Sandy Springs opened a $229 million city hall and performing arts venue less than half a mile away from Flashers, in what it’s billing as a new city center.
Lee said the city’s intent in enforcing an ordinance that bans the mixing of alcohol and nude dancing had not been to drive the venues out of business.
“We never really tried to shut anything down,” he said. “We never attempted to close anybody. That was just the effect of it.”
Garrett Gainey and Bruce Susel, who work at The Juice Box liquor store near Mardi Gras, said one bartender who worked at the club for more than two decades drove an hour to get there. He showed up for work after the closure without knowing he was out of a job, only to see the sign on the door.
“He was pretty sad,” Gainey said.
Wiggins did not know how many people were employed at the clubs he represents, and none of the owners responded to requests for comment about the closures.
“It sucks for people who work there,” Gainey said. “The girls, it seems the only place they can get jobs now is in sketchy places they don’t want to work.”
In addition to closing Sandy Springs’ three strip clubs, the end of the legislation has an effect on Inserection and Love Shack, the two stores in Sandy Springs that sell sex toys and other sexually explicit material, said Cary Wiggins, an attorney representing some of the venues. No more than 25 percent of their inventory can be sexually explicit, he said, including toys that are advertised for sexual use. No one from the stores responded to requests for comment about their plans.