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BY LINCOLN ANDERSON | A veteran operator of high-end topless clubs hopes to turn the 24-hour adult video store at the corner of Clarkson and West Sts. into an upscale new strip club — and says the added security the club will offer will make the street safer for Little Leaguers traveling to and from Pier 40’s ball fields.
Thomas Wolfe, a former employee at Scores, took over the property in August. In an interview at the video store this Tuesday, he said he plans to convert the space “as soon as possible” into a high-end strip joint.
“We’re keeping it under 100 people,” he said. “It’s a small venue, a classy venue. We’re going for quality, not quantity.”
In an effort to reach out to neighbors, Wolfe held a “community meeting” at the store on Saturday morning and personally made a presentation, showing the blueprints for the planned jiggle joint.
The sole local resident who did show up for the meeting was longtime activist Ellen Peterson Lewis, who lives nearby on Greenwich St. Wolfe put up signs for the meeting around the neighborhood, but believes some of them were pulled down.
According to Wolfe, Peterson Lewis asked them not to have illuminated signage on West St. facing the West Side Highway and not to have a stripper pole. Although the club will have one stripper pole, Wolfe stressed that it will be a “satellite pole,” not on the main stage, but off in a corner.
The place would have exterior signage on West St., he said, but in the form of a large painted sign of the place’s new name, Platinum.
The sign would be painted “in a classy way, not in a graffiti way — an artisty way,” he said.
Peterson Lewis didn’t return calls for comment by press time.
Wolfe said he has also compiled 1,000 names on a petition in support of the club, and claimed the signatures are all of people living within Community Board 2. He didn’t have the signatures with him on Tuesday, but said he planned to present them to C.B. 2’s S.L.A. Licensing Committee at its meeting on Thurs., Oct. 11, at 6:30 p.m., at St. Anthony’s Church, at Sullivan and Houston Sts., in the lower hall.
So far, despite Wolfe’s outreach efforts, there has been opposition, mainly from Morton Square, the 135-unit residential building at 100 Morton St. which was built eight years ago.
Wolfe said Morton Square held a meeting for its residents about the strip club on Sept. 27. He had wanted to attend and make his presentation, but he said, Peter Berger, an attorney living at Morton Square who is leading the opposition, said they didn’t want him there. So that’s why Wolfe held his own community meeting two days later.
According to Frank Tomassino, the video store’s counterman for more than 30 years, Peterson Lewis opposed adult uses on the block in the past.
“She did it against Carousel in 1995 and West Side Gentlemen’s Club in 2011,” he said.
Carousel club was a topless club that operated next door to the video store briefly. Taking over the Carousel space, West Side Gentlemen’s Club was planned as a trendy nightclub with topless pole dancers — sort of an ironic, hipster gimmick, inspired by the Bada Bing Club in “The Sopranos.” But local youth sports leagues fought the West Side Gentlemen’s Club plan, saying it would be a harmful influence on youngsters walking to and from nearby Pier 40, located just on the other side of the West Side Highway.
The West Side Gentlemen’s Club eventually gave up on kitschy kink and got its liquor license, and is now a sporadic disco that operates as an event space catering to fashionistas and others, but without topless dancing or stripper poles.
Wolfe said the location is perfectly legal for adult use since it’s in an adult-use zone that was designated under Mayor Giuliani in 1997. The zone extends from Clarkson St. down to Canal St. But the Clarkson St. corner is one of the few actual spots where adult uses could go, since the rest of the stretch is monopolized by two massive properties — the St. John’s Center office building and the still-under-construction Department of Sanitation mega-garage.
A Queens native, Wolfe started out as a barback at Scores when he was 16. Rising through the “gentlemen’s club” business, Wolfe, 37, went on to open up Scores clubs in other cities and become a regional manager. He left Scores in 2008 and operated a topless club in Vegas. This would be his first solely owned high-end topless club. He also owns a restaurant at W. 33rd St. and 10th Ave. called the Tenth Rail.
Blueprints for Platinum call for a central seating area with about 40 seats, ringing a main stage. A nine-seat bar would be located in one corner. Arrayed around the club’s edges would be about 20 so-called cabanas where patrons could enjoy socializing and private lap dances. These small private rooms would be for from four to two people each — the rate for using the more exclusive two-person rooms would presumably be higher.
Wolfe said that the club would have about 20 dancers per day, but since the strippers only work at this type of business one or two days a week, there would be a rotation of about 60 women. He said for the place’s other 15 or so jobs, he’d hire locally. The dancers come from all over the country.
Lap dances would be done 3 feet away from patrons. There would be no groping allowed, he said.
He predicted that the club would draw about 100 patrons per day, who would typically spend anywhere from $300 to $1,500. There would be a $20 cover charge and also a dress code.
Recognizing the tastes of some in the local community, he said he’s considering possibly having male strippers on Sunday nights to cater to a gay crowd.
In fact, until Wolfe took over the video store in August, there was nude female dancing in a small space in its rear. But no drinking was allowed, since under law alcohol isn’t allowed with fully naked dancers; it is allowed to be served with topless dancers, however.
On Tuesday, Wolfe showed a reporter the rear dancing area, where a disco ball was still spinning and throwing off neon-green flecks of light around the room. A cardboard, cutout poster of a stripper holding a “Closed Tonight” sign stood in front of the room. He said he ended the nude dancing right away, trying to get off on a better foot with the community.
And yet, while he’s been striking a conciliatory tone, Wolfe warned if the community denies him a liquor license, then he’ll simply open up as a fully naked dance club. Whether he would draw large numbers without alcohol is questionable, though.
Wolfe said his proposed business would be an “upgrade” over the 24-hour adult video store, for one, since it would operate only 12 hours per day. Typical hours would be 4 p.m. to 4 a.m., he said, but the place would open later on weekends, probably around 6, 7 or 8 p.m., so wouldn’t coincide with the youth league games, he noted. Depending on how business goes, the club might not even be open on Sundays, he said.
“What we want to do is upgrade this space,” he said, adding, “With alcohol, we can’t be open 24 hours.”
He said he wants to reach out to the local youth sports leagues. His security guards and surveillance cameras will make the street safer for the young athletes when they pass by, he maintained.
One thing that is for certain is that business definitely is not booming at the video store. As with so many industries, the Internet has cut deeply into the trade. People watch porn on their iPhones nowadays, said Adith Gunawrdn, another store employee.
Meanwhile, he said, the store’s rent is $27,000 a month.
“Yesterday business — I don’t know about the booths — the store made $5,” he said.
Asked what accounted for the $5, Gunawrdn thought a second, then tapped a jar on the counter containing $1 Captain Rush condoms.
Two years ago, the place would make $4,000 in a 24-hour period, he said. Now, they’re lucky if they pull in $400 or $500 during one day and night. And then there are those $5 days.
The video booths in the back cost a paltry $1 for 2½ minutes.
But Tomassino said adult uses, bars and clubs have been clustered around this block for decades.
“This place had a liquor license 40 years ago,” he said. “It was Cafe Milford and then it became a gay club called The Buckle. Right next door was an adult movie theater.”
And there was the diner down the block on West St., which also used to have a liquor license, he noted.
“We operated it 12 years ago as a video diner,” he recalled. “You could get breakfast, lunch or dinner and watch a movie at your table.” Those were mainstream movies, not XXX, he said.
“Morton Square has only been there about five to six years,” he continued. “Pier 40 [as a sports center] has been there six or seven years — before that it was FedEx. They want everything to be residential, they don’t want commercial,” he said of local residents, though adding, “This is the end of the world here.”
As for the boarded-up, vintage-style diner, Tomassino said, his understanding is that it had been assembled as part of a development property along with the adjacent car wash and an old macaroni factory to build a 42-story hotel. But the financing must have fallen apart, he figures, because nothing happened.