Columbia opposes nudity at club Residents turn out to fight proposal
BY TOM KNAPP, Staff Writer
Testimony closed Wednesday evening on an application to allow full-nude dancing at a Columbia Borough strip club.
"We want to be nude like every other BYOB club in Pennsylvania and not work at a disadvantage," said Cassandra Fisher, general manager of Club Good Times, 425 Union St., where she also dances.
"Everyone would make more money if we were nude."
The community, however, was firm in its opposition to the plan. During nearly 30 minutes of public testimony before the borough's zoning hearing board, several residents registered their displeasure with the bar.
"It's a slap in the face to every woman in this town to allow this," Flora Eshleman said.
"I just don't think this place should be zoned for a nude bar. If they want to have it, they should have it on the outskirts of town."
"Can't they go to another town?" asked Mary Lou Holland. "Not that I'm wishing it on another town, but why are we wasting our time for a place that a lot of us don't approve of?"
"Not in our town," said Frank Doutrich. "Please."
Formerly called Hartman's Cafe, the bar had its liquor license revoked by the state Liquor Control Board after owner David Hand pleaded guilty in 2000 to a charge of promoting prostitution at the establishment.
Richard Fisher bought the property in 2002. Operating as Club Good Times, the venue does not have a liquor license but allows patrons to bring alcohol to drink on the premises.
Cassandra Fisher said she began working as a dancer at the former Hartman's Cafe in 1989. Because Hartman's sold alcohol, she said, dancers wore g-strings and pasties on the floor at all times -- with the exception of all-nude parties held on Monday evenings, for which patrons purchased tickets and entered through the back door.
That continued until "about 1999," when Hand was arrested, Fisher said, and the LCB took Hartman's liquor license "in lieu of his fines."
Fisher said she returned to Hartman's when her ex-husband purchased the club.
Because they no longer had a liquor license, the club operated as a BYOB establishment, she said. Without LCB restrictions in place, dancers went fully nude. Then, in 2007, she said, the borough ordered management to discontinue nude dancing.
"I had the girls put back on g-strings and pasties," Fisher said. "I didn't know if they'd shut us down, if we'd get arrested."
An appeal in 2009 was denied. However, attorney Allen Shollenberger, representing the Fishers, said there is no other site within Columbia Borough where an adult establishment such as Club Good Times is allowed by zoning.
Jeffrey Helm, the borough's zoning and planning officer, said Columbia ordinances allow adult entertainment, such as nude dancing, in general industrial zones, which are in the extreme east and west ends of the borough.
In December, Shollenberger provided testimony from consultant Bruce McLaughlin, who said restrictions on adult businesses in those zones are so strict that there are no viable locations in Columbia.
During questioning by attorney Neil Albert, representing the borough, Helm testified that there is a triangular lot totaling 18.38 acres with frontage on Malleable Road, bounded on the north by a former railroad line and on the south by a residential area, that would qualify for use by an adult dance club.
Helm disagreed with Shollenberger's position that the presence of Glatfelter Memorial Field -- a park owned by Columbia Borough School District that is heavily used by student athletics, Bible study groups and the public at large -- across the street disqualified the site for adult entertainment.
McLaughlin said that, because the park is owned and used by a school, property used for adult entertainment must be at least 1,000 feet away from the park's edge. Helm said that, as a park, the limit is only 500 feet, and, because the park is privately owned, it could be argued that there's no restriction there at all.
Some residents argued that the bar is already a nuisance at its current location, and allowing full nudity there will make matters worse by drawing more unsavory customers from out of town.
Joan Robinson complained that patrons of Club Good Times take residents' parking spaces and urinate in their parking lots.
Union Street resident Biddie Helton said patrons exiting the club once harassed her to the extent that she pulled a shotgun on them.
"I had dancers pull their shirts up to my children," she added. "There is prostitution going on in there. I know that, my husband was there."
Helton said it "is not fair for any woman in this town for their husbands to go into that bar and to witness these women taking their clothes off. This town does not need nude women. If they want to get naked, let them go to a parking lot and get naked."
The zoning hearing board has 45 days to render a decision on the application. The board's next meeting is at 7 p.m. on Feb. 27.
"Everyone would make more money if we were nude."
Club Good Times' general manager