To Open or Not to Open…


David M. Crisp Jr.

In most states, adult clubs, bars, amusement parks, licensed massage businesses and tattoo parlors have not been permitted to reopen under the COVID-19 pandemic, even at 25% capacity, but must wait until “Late Phase Re-opening”, which remains in limbo. Additionally, some states and municipalities require a concretely defined ‘reopening plan’. 

Association of Club Executive (ACE) National Members are building a tentative plan for reopening when they get the “green light” from their states and municipalities. 

Angelina Spencer, Executive Director, had an idea, so she reached out to both adult club owners and qualified medical experts to help clubs come up with a uniform reopening template that would provide a path forward to minimize risk and maximize security for all. 

“Unfortunately, initial adult club re-openings will not be ‘business as usual’,” Spencer told ACE National. “In talking with lobbyists, elected officials, club owners, and medical experts, most professional organizations and businesses have created re-opening templates to keep people safe. Why not the adult club industry too?”

The majority of states refuse to offer firm dates for advanced phase re-openings, fearing political fallout and/or a spike in COVID-19 cases that may be used against them come election time.

“I understand their concerns,” Spencer said. “But this ad hoc, pick and choose phase reopening is not exactly going as planned. People flood beaches or move about through drugstores, grocery stores and hardware stores, and now people can visit nail and hair salons or attend church. The virus does not know the difference, and the information about COVID-19 comes to us politically filtered and modified and therefore government rules and regulations based on this information are predominantly without merit. We’re more than two-months into a pandemic and still have no real answers. We have ‘stimulus’, ‘phases’ and hyperbole but no medical or economic cure.”

The majority of ACE National Members are not aware that Spencer also works with private D.C. based contractors in other industries, including people at the forefront of the COVID-19 response. 

“I noticed military, corporate, and government clients hiring particular private contractors that I speak with daily, to help with research and “re-opening procedures,” Spencer said. 

She asked these experts if they might also help adult clubs, either with a COVID-19 safety reopening webinar or establishing standard operating procedures (SOP’s). Spencer was initially disappointed to learn that each expert charges $10,000 per hour, a hefty and unaffordable price tag for a nonprofit such as ACE.

“We’re talking about quality people who work with some of the largest corporations and agencies on the planet,” Spencer said. “These are people that the Pentagon calls up for advice,” she said. “People who’ve testified before Congress—experts who travel to hellish places on the planet so they may institute bio-safety protocols.”

Spencer walked away feeling defeated until one of the experts called her the following day. He said that her dream team agreed to help the adult club industry, and would even attach their names to the project, on one condition: That ACE National donate a steeply discounted expert fee to help adult industry folks in need. 

Once Spencer had the medical experts on board, she wasn’t sure if the ACE board of directors would find the idea worthwhile. 

When she received a ‘thumbs up’ from Kathy Vercher, CEO of Spearmint Rhino Worldwide and Slim Baucom of MAL Entertainment, she felt emboldened. “I respect Kathy and Slim a great deal,” Spencer said. “They’re smart. They observe, they listen and they offer sound advice. When they agreed this was a good idea, I took it to the rest of the board.”

It was Joey Bien of the Treasure Clubs and Don Kleinhans of 2001 Odyssey that really took the proverbial ball and ran it downfield. Each gentleman shared their own insights, research, and what might work or not work in terms of safely reopening during a COVID-19 pandemic. 

“When Angelina brought this to me, I was greatly impressed,” Bien said. “She really thought this through, asked great questions, and had mind-boggling experts willing to help us.”

But just who are these so-called “experts”?

“I’m not publicly naming names yet,” Spencer said. “But one is a clinician, an M.D. who earned her medical degree at Stanford after serving in the Navy. She is now tasked to head Covid response for a state,” Spencer said. “The second expert is an epidemiologist, a retired Air Force Captain and professor Emeritus at Emory. He also once served as U.S. Undersecretary of Health. He’s a medical consultant. The third expert is an anti-bio warfare expert who works with the CDC and served on the National Academy of Sciences Board.”

“As far as the COVID virus goes, it doesn’t know the difference between a bar, a restaurant, or a church,” Kleinhans told ACE National. “Angelina, Joey and I went back and forth with research, ideas, dialogue and what a post pandemic plan might look like.”

Spencer was still concerned. 

Although she had the tentative blessing of most of her board members, perhaps ACE Advisory attorneys might see things differently.

“Our advisory attorneys are exceptional,” Spencer said. “They give their time and expert advice to ACE to ensure we’re within legal boundaries. What if there is some glaring legal reason we can’t or shouldn’t proceed?”

Spencer’s fears were soon allayed when a couple of advisory attorneys stepped up and said they thought this was a great idea—but to be sure to have attorneys review templates, checklists or plans—and that it should be the attorneys too, who write any legal waivers or disclaimers. 

“I felt that the benefits, the positives of the industry coming up with a unified reopening best practice, provided it is consistent with state and local rules, far outweigh any potential pitfalls.  Many other industries have come up industry sponsored re-opening plans – so why not this one?” said Jeffrey Kimmel, attorney with Akerman LLP out of New York. 

And then it was ‘game on’…

Experts agree that even without a significant drop in the number of COVID-19 cases across most states, several businesses have been allowed to reopen, including retail stores, restaurants, factories, hair salons, spas and even churches. 

“Almost every state in the union is working from the same Phase Reopening  ‘playbook’, a template of guidelines that elected officials share and modify according to a weird mix of politics and research,” Spencer said. “They share this template with large corporations too. Most governors are taking the stance that precautions must be taken before opening bars to prevent a COVID spike, but I also believe abuse potential is ripe for some to use COVID-19 as an excuse to prevent certain businesses from opening as long as possible.” 

The key to reopening bars and adult clubs, as with most business, they claim, is social distancing and sanitation, Spencer said. 

The tentative ACE National re-opening template, dubbed ‘Operation COPS’ (Club Owners Promoting Safety), offers suggested guidelines and a checklist on how adult clubs might open while ensuring the safety of customers, dancers, and employees. The template includes front and back of house checklists, self-distancing suggestions, and a thorough sanitation plan. 

The template also includes options for hand-sanitizing stations, disposable or digital menu options, and employee health screenings. 

But even if adult clubs are permitted to reopen soon, some owners are hesitant to do so.

“I go back and forth,” Kleinhans says. “And that’s because there is so much conflicting information out there. I’d never want anyone to contract COVID at our place of business but I don’t want my workers continuing to starve either. And if other bars, restaurants and even churches are open, does COVID know the difference between them? That said, I still want to do my part and make sure that when we do open, we have the best safety plan possible.”

Bien agrees with him. 

“It’s important for workers in any industry to be appropriately trained in post-pandemic safety procedures,” Bien told ACE. “We definitely need experts to share what the safety protocols and plans might look like until the entire nation clears this COVID hurdle.” 

Consequently, many municipalities, in addition to having Phases for re-opening, also have little known color-coded  ‘alert phases’ that indicate community risk for transmission of the virus. For example, if a city is in a red phase, residents are discouraged but not prohibited from patronizing restaurants. 

A few ACE National Members will participate in a conference call with the medical experts on Friday, to learn more. 

“We’ve asked twelve questions of them,” Spencer said. “The response I received in D.C. was, ‘these are well-thought and great questions. Stay tuned.”