Their clothes will come off but the face masks and gloves will stay on when the dancers at an Omaha adult entertainment club return to work next week.
Club Omaha, near 120th Street and West Center Road, plans to reopen Thursday.
If churches can be open, Club Omaha owner Shane Harrington decided, so can the strip club.
“Some of the churches can hold 300 people. We won’t have nearly that many,” Harrington said.
Under the state’s health directive, “in order to mitigate COVID-19 related food disruption, food and beverage sales at restaurants, bars, taverns, private clubs and any dine-in establishments are allowed” beginning May 4 as long as the businesses don’t exceed 50% capacity.
Club Omaha doesn’t serve food or alcohol, but Harrington considers it a private membership club. Dancers perform nude.
“Because we’re a private membership club first, I think we’re OK,” Harrington said.
A spokesman for Gov. Pete Ricketts told a World-Herald reporter Thursday that the reopening would be in violation of the state’s directed health measure.
That was news to Harrington, who said his emails to city and state officials had been left unanswered.
Harrington said he sent an email to Douglas County and state officials on April 25 to ask about their reopening date.
The email requested that the club be allowed to open May 4 “under the same conditions under which Governor Ricketts is allowing barbershops, salons, tattoo parlors, and massage therapy businesses to operate, including a 10-person limitation and PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) for entertainers and employees including face masks and gloves.”
Omaha City Attorney Paul Kratz replied in an email, “At this point it is a state issue.”
Club Omaha sent another email Monday to more than a dozen officials, including Omaha City Council members and Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson, announcing that the club would be opening May 14.
Harrington said that as of Thursday night, no one had responded to the email.
The club’s reopening is an echo from the past. In November 1918, a burlesque show became the first lawful public gathering after restrictions were lifted during the 1918 flu pandemic. The Gayety Theater decided to open for a 12:01 a.m. burlesque show, and crowds lined up for admission.
Unfortunately, Omaha was one of many cities that dropped social distancing requirements too early and paid a price in sickness and death. Kansas City, Denver, Cincinnati and Birmingham, Alabama, all experienced new waves of influenza after lifting restrictions.
Harrington chose May 14 so he can see how Omaha fares as such businesses as salons, restaurants and tattoo parlors open with restrictions.
“We want to make sure that things don’t get exponentially worse before we reopen,” he said.
Harrington plans to open the club at 25% capacity.
“I think we technically can open with 50% capacity based on the private membership club in the rule set as I understand them,” he said. “But I think that’s too many people.”
Harrington was cited by Omaha police on April 3 on suspicion of violating a Douglas County health order that required 6-foot social distancing between customers and dancers.
“I’m willing to go to jail for this,” Harrington said on reopening. “If they come into my club, they’ll have drag me out in handcuffs.”
The club makes about 65% of its revenue from March to July, Harrington said, adding that the club has lost $250,000 in the last two months. About 60 women work as independent contractors at Club Omaha, and the club has sold thousands of memberships since its opening about three years ago, Harrington said.
The loss of big local events such as the College World Series, Olympic Swim Trials, concerts and the Berkshire Hathaway weekend was a financial hit to Club Omaha, just as it was to many other businesses in the entertainment industry, Harrington said.