Frank DeLuca has a problem.
The owner of Club Fantasies, a Providence strip club, said that just one performer showed up last week when the venue reopened for outdoor dancing — the only entertainment the club can offer under state restrictions currently in place due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Most dancers, DeLuca said, are reluctant to return to work, since they are now prohibited from offering more lucrative lap dances to individual customers.
“Without doing the side dance — some people call them lap dances, I call them side dances — they don’t make as much in tips,” DeLuca said. “They won’t make enough money for themselves. I can’t tell them to come in. It’s up to them, because they’re independent contractors.”
Many of them, DeLuca said, are also collecting unemployment.
And it’s not just performers who are unhappy about the no-lap-dance policy; DeLuca said the few customers who trickled in last week were disappointed to learn the up-close services weren’t available. About two dozen patrons visited Fantasies on both nights last week, DeLuca said, but “there was probably more that came and left when they found out the girls could not do a side dance.”
Still, DeLuca said, he plans to open Fantasies at noon Thursday as scheduled.
“I’m going to give it another shot,” he said.
DeLuca and three of his competitors — Desire, The Cadillac Lounge, and The Foxy Lady — got the OK to open last week from the Providence Board of Licensing, after the panel reviewed a detailed safety plan the clubs jointly submitted.
Dylan Conley, chairman of the licensing board, said the panel’s approval of the plan was subject to executive orders on reopening from Governor Gina Raimondo and Mayor Jorge O. Elorza, as well as safety protocols issued by the state Department of Business Regulation.
Conley said the licensing board wanted to be sure the outdoor dances were visible only to patrons, not to the public.
Conley, who is also a Democratic candidate for Congress, noted that lap dances pose a heightened risk of transmitting contagions. Once indoor entertainment is allowed, Conley said, the clubs must submit a safety plan subject to approval by the board before lap dances will be permitted.
“I think the nature of a lap dance is, if you consider the [potential for] spreading contagious diseases, much more challenging than other services that are normally performed at restaurants and bars, so that will be complicated,” Conley said.
Under the clubs’ plan approved last week, they’ll take a number of precautions, including spacing tables at least 8 feet apart, or separated by plexiglass or a similar barrier; requiring masks for all staff including performers; requiring masks for customers when they interact with staff; sanitizing the stage between performances; requiring temperature checks for all customers and staff, with no one allowed on the premises if they have a temperature over 100.4 degrees; and “[h]andwashing, handwashing, handwashing.”
The safety plan also included a number of precautions for interior operations, which will be relevant once indoor entertainment is permitted.
Under the plan, indoor seating will be limited to 50 percent capacity.
In addition, clubs will either install a plexiglass barrier between the bar service area and bar seating or “utilize separate bars for work areas and seating areas,” among many other safeguards, the plan said.
“Adult entertainment may not be everyone’s favorite sector of the economy, but it is a constitutionally protected industry that generates millions in income to those who work for these clubs and substantial local tax revenue which pays for the things we care about most in our city,” the plan said.
The document said the “Parties have lost millions of dollars and the people who rely on the income they derive from these businesses have been crushed by COVID-19. We must get these businesses back to work in a safe manner.”
Conley, the licensing board chair, said Wednesday that the panel recognizes the entire hospitality industry has been devastated by the pandemic, but the clubs asserted in their plan that they’ve been hit especially hard.
“They were blocked from participating in many of the federal and state aid programs made available to other small businesses,” the plan said. “They have been denied insurance coverage for the impacts felt by this pandemic and the ensuing shutdown of the economy.”
DeLuca, meanwhile, said he doesn’t know if more dancers will show up to perform at Fantasies on Thursday.
“We don’t call and tell them to come in,” he said. “They just know we’re open, and it’s up to them. You never know what to expect.”