Saturday, March 8, 2014
By Todd Richmond
The Associated Press
MADISON, Wis. — So much for snuggling in Wisconsin.
Matthew Hurtado talks about The Snuggle House, where customers can snuggle with professional cuddlers for $60 an hour. Supporters say the business helps people relax through non-sexual touch. But city officials suspect the Snuggle House may be a thinly veiled brothel and cuddling will lead to sexual assault. Hurtado’s past is raising red flags; he has filed for bankruptcy twice, written a book about a sex addict meeting a supernatural being and, according to city attorneys, has worked as a stripper.
The Associated Press
The owner of Madison’s new Snuggle House has decided to shut it down just three weeks after it opened, choosing to pack up his pillows and beds under intense scrutiny from city officials who questioned whether the place was a front for a brothel.
The business announced its closure on Facebook late Friday evening. Timothy Casper, the owner’s attorney, confirmed the closure to The Associated Press on Monday, saying Matthew Hurtado was sick of the city harassing him and negative publicity.
“He’s tired of people taking potshots at him,” Casper said. “He doesn’t need that.”
The Snuggle House, part of a growing trend of touch therapy establishments and cuddle parties around the country, was located above a bar about a block from the state Capitol. It offered customers an hour of cuddling in a bed with a professional snuggler for $60.
The place got off to a rough start, even in uber-liberal Madison. The business’s original October opening got pushed back to mid-November after city officials raised concerns about whether it was really a front for prostitution and the potential for sexual assaults. They also questioned why Hurtado, who has filed for bankruptcy twice, had no business plan and no business insurance.
Hurtado developed a policy manual forbidding sex during snuggle sessions, installed security cameras and a panic button in each snuggle room, and promised to perform background checks on clients, city attorney Jennifer Zilavy said.
Meanwhile, police said they planned to run a sting operation at the business, sending in an officer posing as a customer to test the establishment’s boundaries, and Zilavy began work on a new ordinance regulating the business. A number of media outlets, including The Associated Press, ran stories about the city’s concerns.
Casper said the place had two or three dozen customers in the three weeks it was open, but that Hurtado had had enough.
“All of this is so slanted and incorrect,” Casper said.
Police Lt. David McCaw said the agency never received any complaints alleging criminal activity at the Snuggle House. He denied that officers had harassed the business, saying on its face, at least, the business was legal. He said he told Hurtado and Casper that the agency was planning a sting.
“That’s just what we do, for drugs, bars, anywhere we think it’s beneficial,” McCaw said. “We do it all the time. You can’t expect that’s not going to happen to you.”
Zilavy also denied hounding the business. But she said the city had to make sure the Snuggle House didn’t devolve in a house of prostitution. She said Hurtado told her in a phone conversation before the Snuggle House opened that he was contemplating not going forward because of all the negative public reaction.
She promised to continue drafting an ordinance addressing touch businesses.
“If nothing else, the Snuggle House made us aware that we don’t have any regulations specific to that type of business and for the health and safety of our community, we should,” she said in an email to The AP.
Casper said Hurtado hopes to sublet the Snuggle House’s space and give away its furniture. He said Hurtado didn’t open the business to make money. He got the idea when he was in the hospital suffering from Lyme’s disease and people were poking and prodding him.
“He often thought,” Casper said, “it would be nice if someone came in and gave him a hug.”