Most frat boys would kill for Eric Kelly's job ... well, part of it, anyway.
By day, Kelly is a land-use attorney and growth-management specialist for an Austin, Texas-based consulting firm. But by night, he studies strip clubs and other adult-oriented businesses around the country to determine whether those businesses are violating local ordinances.
About six months ago, Memphis and Shelby County officials contracted with Kelly for a $38,000 study looking into Memphis-area strip clubs.
He and partner Connie Cooper found full nudity, private rooms, and physical contact between dancers and customers -- all in violation of the city's ordinances. As a result, Kelly recommended enforcing ordinances and establishing a separate adult business licensing board. (Adult businesses are currently licensed through the Alcohol Commission.) The Flyer talked to Kelly about his methodology, private rooms, and how a land-use attorney blends into strip clubs. -- Bianca Phillips
Flyer: How'd you get into this business?
Kelly: I find it intellectually challenging. The legal issues with this are so complicated. Most of our clients who want to regulate have no clue what they are dealing with. They go out thinking that every sex business is the same and they can come in with a sledgehammer and solve all the problems. But the more we get into this, the more we understand that they're not all the same. There are some really bad operators out there, and there are some who run good, clean operations.
You don't look like the strip-club type and you have a female partner. How do you blend in?
We go in and pay the cover charge and visit with people. We buy drinks, mostly just cranberry juice. We go with the flow. I wear khakis and a casual shirt and a light jacket. The fact that we're a man/woman couple and the fact that we're white makes us look out of place in some of the clubs. They may look at us and think, these people are a little unusual, but I don't think we stand out to the point where they think we're cops or something.
Do you go in the private rooms?
We don't do that as a matter of policy. We prefer to stay in an area where there are a lot of people. We're concerned that if we get into a back room with only a handful of people, we could get into a "he said/she said" situation and be accused of entrapping somebody. Or they could take our pictures and make it look like we're doing something awful, so we just don't get ourselves into that situation.
Do you tip the dancers?
We just sit back and watch. If a girl approaches us and wants to do a private dance, we say, "No, thanks." If she'll sit down and talk with us, we'll talk with her and we tip. They have to make money for their time, and if they'll talk with us quite awhile, we'll tip them quite a bit of money. I want them to make as much from talking to us as they would from doing a dance.
What do you talk about?
We just have a conversation. Connie is better at that stuff. She'll tell them that we go to other clubs and compare things. She makes it sound like it's kind of a hobby.
Does your contract price include cover charges and tips?
We assume there's going to be some of that in the cost to the contract. We have a fixed-price contract. If we end up spending more money on that, we just do.
What was the craziest thing you saw in Memphis?
People lying on top of each other and having simulated sex on stage. We had never seen that any other place, and we saw it more than once. We saw that at Platinum Plus, but we saw something pretty similar at other clubs.