March 14, 2010

Sex & the country

In a live-and-let-live swath of rural western Maine, entrepreneurs have turned to exotic dancers as a viable -- and even welcomed -- business model.

By Tom Bell
Staff Writer

CARRABASSETT VALLEY — As the last families at the Carrabassett Inn & Grill finish their fried haddock and prime rib, two men in leather jackets haul away the empty tables.

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The Carrabassett Inn and Grill becomes a nightclub that welcomes the girls from PartyDancers USA on Friday nights. The restaurant makes its money by selling drinks.

Tim Greenway/Staff Photographer

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Regular patrons of the Carrabassett Inn & Grill eat dinner before it is transformed into a nightclub featuring strippers. Many of the locals don’t stay for the show; they come for food and leave before 9:30 p.m. on Fridays.

Tim Greenway/Staff Photographer

Additional Photos Below

They roll in portable platforms and install dancing poles, strobe lights and a disco ball. One of the men drapes black fabric over the windows.

It takes only 30 minutes to transform the family restaurant into a strip club.

A crowd of men, mostly snowmobilers, pours inside as the pounding dance music signals the start of the show. Unlike in clubs in some Maine cities, though, the dancers here are naked. The men are allowed to touch 95 percent of the women's bodies, the bouncer announces before the show starts.

Just 14 miles up Route 27 in a hotel in Eustis, a similar crowd is watching topless women perform lap dances. The same scene is playing out in taverns in Rangeley and Greenville Junction.

In the mountains of western Maine, sex is a business model that works.

"I call it my economic stimulus package," says Jeff Jacques, owner of the Carrabassett Inn & Grill. "I had to do something to keep my doors open."

There are not many ways to make a living up here, so communities put up with the shows as long as it's not apparent to the public what's going on inside the establishments. Except for one or two nights a week, the businesses operate as ordinary hotels and taverns.

Advertising is limited to the Internet. In Greenville Junction, posters are put up on snowmobile trails.

The shows begin in September with the bear season, followed by moose season, deer season, the ski and snowmobile season and then fishing season.

The business thrives because there's a market.

The patrons -- most of whom hail from cities and suburbs to the south -- are spending the weekends with their buddies and have left their wives and girlfriends at home. The lack of regulations and the region's live-and-let-live ethos also play a role.

Communities in other parts of the state, including Portland and its suburbs, use zoning rules to regulate adult businesses. In Portland, for example, physical contact is prohibited and dancers must cover their genitals.

Nude dancing is not tolerated everywhere in rural Maine. Residents of Solon in Somerset County last week adopted an ordinance that removes the profit motive by banning the operators of erotic dance shows from selling alcohol.

In response to the opening a year ago of the Grand View Coffee Shop in Vassalboro, several towns in central Maine have recently adopted similar ordinances.

The coffee shop, which featured topless waitresses, burned to the ground last June in a late-night fire that investigators say was intentionally set. The fire occurred just hours after the owner presented a proposal to town officials to make the topless coffee shop more like a strip club.

Carrabassett Valley, Eustis and Rangeley don't have ordinances regulating sex-oriented businesses. Greenville Junction is in an unorganized territory. In all those places, state law allows full nudity as well as physical contact.

The communities are also more tolerant.

In the mountains of western Maine, churches have less influence than in other parts of the state, and residents here are generally reluctant to interfere in other people's lives, explains Pam Morse, pastor of the Sugarloaf Area Christian Ministry, the only church in Carrabassett Valley.

People who move to the region value their privacy, she says. "Most people come up this way to be left alone."

On Main Street in Stratton, the main village of Eustis, the Stratton Plaza Hotel has hosted erotic dance shows since the mid-1990s.

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

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Employees of PartyDancersUSA install a dance platform and pole at the Carrabassett Inn & Grill for a Friday night strip show. The owners say they nearly closed when the recession hit, but now the business is thriving.

Tim Greenway/Staff Photographer

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A performer with PartyDancersUSA takes the stage at the Carrabassett Inn & Grill, which on Friday nights transforms from a restaurant to a nightclub that features nude dancers. PartyDancers, an Augusta-based business, provides the performers, bouncers and equipment for a $450 fee.

Tim Greenway/Staff Photographer


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