COVID-19

Businesses Stripped of Indoor Operation, Except Gentlemen's Clubs

A judge issued a temporary restraining order against the county, keeping it from stopping business at two San Diego strip clubs, for now

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The fact that strip clubs are open and operating inside is baffling for some business owners who are struggling to make ends meet while their doors are closed.

The current stay-at-home order, which reduced restaurants to takeout service only and banned indoor operation at other businesses, doesn't impact Pacers Showgirls International and Cheetahs Gentlemen’s Club. That's because a judge granted a temporary restraining order halting the county's cease-and-desist orders for those businesses.

County officials said they cannot take action against the clubs while the injunction is in place even though there is a new stay-at-home order. San Diego County officials on Wednesday voted 3-2 to appeal the judge's ruling but meanwhile, other businesses are frustrated.

“I believe anybody can make a business in America. So it’s nothing against the strip clubs, but it's how inconsistent it is that somehow this virus lives in --  you can't contract it in certain areas," said Alondra Ruiz, owner of The Village SD restaurant.

Fueled by what she calls inconsistent state mandates, Ruiz broadcasted her rebellion during a four-minute social media post letting all who'd listen know that she isn't stopping on-site dining.

She was seating customers outside her North Park restaurant Wednesday night.

When asked if she was willing to suffer the consequences of cease-and-desist orders along with fines, she exclaimed, “Absolutely! I had a meeting with my employees, you know, everybody wants to work. So I’m standing up for them and I’m standing up for the people that want to say something but don't have the courage or are afraid of the fines. I think they’re illegal and I’d rather fight them in court than shut down my business."

Restaurants and gyms lost their court battle over indoor operation last month, and other live entertainment businesses like theaters and comedy clubs remain shuttered. But because of the temporary restraining order issued in November, the strip clubs continue to operate while their case moves through court.

“It’s important to understand that unlike, say, a church, there is no underlying constitutional right to operate a strip club," said legal analyst Dan Eaton.

The county's court appeal may have more legs this time, due to the state's more restrictive health order, Eaton explained.

"It’s been amended and everyone is shut down from operating indoors. So it becomes a harder argument for the strip clubs to make that they are being treated unfairly," Eaton continued.

As customers dug into their meals at The Village SD, Ruiz was digging in as well, taking up the fight for equal treatment for all businesses.

“I'm a compassionate person. I understand the suffering of people who have lost family members to COVID. But if that's the thing, if that's really the concern, is to keep people apart, then they should close big corporations too."

San Diego Superior Court Judge Joel R. Wohlfeil sided with the clubs, saying adult live entertainment is “constitutionally protected speech" and said the harm would be greater to the businesses than to the government.

That argument set the strip clubs apart from restaurants or gyms, whose pleas to allow indoor activity was rejected by another San Diego judge last month when the county moved into the state's most restrictive tier because of spiraling coronavirus cases. Superior Court Judge Kenneth Medel said that the potential harm from undercutting the state’s COVID-19 response outweighed damage to the affected businesses.

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