PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — More than 200 people who work at New England’s oldest and most well-known strip club are wondering how they’ll pay for Christmas presents and bills after a city board forced the Foxy Lady to permanently close because three of its dancers had been arrested on prostitution charges.
The closure was called “blatantly sexist” by the Rhode Island chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. The club is fighting it. Its owners filed papers with the state Supreme Court on Thursday asking it to intervene and calling the decision arbitrary and unfair. A justice will take the matter up Friday.
Meanwhile, dancers and other workers are left with no income and little chance of getting a job before the holiday.
“It’s an actual business with real people and real lives that are really affected by this,” said Tammy Marie Kruwell, who is a “Foxy rub girl” who gives shoulder rubs to customers for the length of a song.
The Providence Board of Licenses voted Wednesday 3-1 to revoke all of the club’s licenses, saying the harsh punishment would ensure other strip clubs in the city don’t violate the law. Police said they began investigating after a dancer reported she was sexually assaulted there.
A message was left with a lawyer for the club. He said in court papers the club had incurred just one disciplinary violation, related to gambling, since it opened in 1979. Management has said it was unaware of any alleged prostitution.
The club is perhaps best known for its “Leggs and Eggs” buffet that begins at 6 a.m. on Fridays. Over the decades, it’s landed in the news after visits by players for the Boston Red Sox and New England Patriots, or when its name has occasionally popped up during prosecutions of figures in the New England mafia.
It was the setting of a 1995 memoir, “Ivy League Stripper,” written by a woman who helped pay her way through nearby Brown University by dancing on tables and wrestling in shaving cream there. When the Foxy Lady held a job fair in the midst of the recession in 2009, it drew around 150 applicants.
Kruwell has a 14-year-old son at home and one son who’s grown. Her husband is putting off shoulder replacement surgery because of the uncertainty of when she might find work again, she said.
Christmas this year won’t be what she had planned.
“Now, I have to take what I put aside for Christmas and put it toward my bills,” she said. “I was able to put a little bit away. It’s just not enough.”
Kruwell makes the hourly minimum wage, and then makes additional money per shoulder rub, plus tips. It’s her only job. She has worked there six years and now trains new employees on the handbook and the rules. She said she has never witnessed prostitution at the club.
Many of the workers were counting on the club’s annual Christmas party, the biggest and most lucrative event of the year, to pay off bills and buy gifts. Workers described the club as a good, safe and clean place to work, where people looked out for each other and nothing against the rules was tolerated.
“We are selling a fantasy, not sex,” said Aubrey Williams, who pointed out that many of her co-workers had been working at the Foxy Lady a decade or more.
Bella Robinson, of COYOTE, or Call Off Your Old Tired Ethics, a group that advocates for sex workers, said the many dancers, bouncers, valets, bartenders, kitchen and cleaning staff that work there are the victims of discrimination because of the nature of their work. An effort is underway to collect money, gift cards and toys for the people now out of work, she said.
State labor officials said Thursday they had left a message with the club to help those out of work with services such as unemployment insurance, career counseling and job training.
Lori Dinobile, who works as a “house mom,” taking care of the women, making them cookies, soup and eggplant parmesan, and generally keeping them happy, said a lot of the workers are worried how to pay their rent or make car payments. Many have children.
“It’s just a family. It really truly is,” she said. “No one should judge.”