adult

[Business]

Sexo” sells

In a brutal economy, strip clubs and massage parlors aimed at Latinos are thriving

Image
Photo illustration by Colleen Wang
Timothy Pratt

The only English words in the ad were, “table dance: $10.” It was on Page 23 of El Mundo, the valley’s oldest Spanish-language weekly.

The rest was en espanol. The occasion: the grand opening of Chicas Bonitas on the forgotten northern reach of Las Vegas Boulevard.

With Chicas, the valley that sells the suggestion of sex to the world now has its first strip club targeted at Latinos, featuring (mostly) Latinas.

The club opens off the sidewalk and onto TV screens showing futbol—that’s soccer—plus swiveling Mexicanas and even a Brasilera atop small stages. There are Salvadoran, Mexican and Colombian national colors on the walls. The tunes are reggaeton and an occasional ranchera.

News of the club’s opening comes as the Valley has also seen 15 massage parlors staffed mostly by Latinas open in the last six months, like so many lupine flowers popping through desert sand after rain. The offerings have grown so fast that competitors differentiate themselves by nationality.

What is going on here?

Is this just a case of supply finally catching up with demand, nearly a decade after the last Census revealed that the relentless growth of Las Vegas in part came from the constant arrival of Hispanics? At that time, the year 2000—que sorpresa—the figure was nearly 1 in 5; now the figure is greater than 1 in 4. In fact, a Pew Hispanic Center study just released shows that the Las Vegas Valley ranks seventh in the nation among urban areas with large Hispanic populations in that population’s rate of growth from 2000 to 2007.

But still, why now? Could it be a sign of the times?

More

Chicas Bonitas
1818 N. Las Vegas Blvd. North Las Vegas, 702-256-7894
From the Archives
A City for Everyone—Where Everyone’s Got a City (5/12/05)
Beyond the Weekly
El Mundo

Las Vegas tops the nation in foreclosures and perhaps has fallen the furthest and fastest. And the piece of the local economy that may have lost the most workers is construction, with unemployment rates in that industry rising for more than 18 months running. Who does construction in Las Vegas? Hispanics, many of whom are single men, or at least men alone with families in Mexico, as well as being undocumented immigrants.

Could it be that thousands of these men are spending what little money they have on table dances and massages, a desperate exodus to clubs and parlors aimed at drowning sorrows?

Is the new supply meeting a demand created by failed travelers far from home and trapped between a sinking economy and an increasingly aggressive federal immigration policy?

At Chicas Bonitas, Antonio, from Puebla, says he went through months with no work building houses. But now he’s working again, though he’s earning less. Still, he says, you have to have a good time if you’re going to work so hard.

Sitting next to the slight, mustachioed man, Ramiro, another native of Puebla, also dressed in the striped Izod-type T-shirt that seemed to be de rigueur on the opening night of Chicas, says seeing the chicas dance “gives you strength to get up again the next day.”

Ramiro is also earning half what he might have two years ago, before the local housing industry tanked. But he has a system: You go out, have a good time, but don’t spend more than $15.

On stage, his theory seems to be shared: None of the other T-shirt-and-baseball-cap laborers are stuffing Benjamins in bras and thongs; they’re all flashing Washingtons.

And no one’s making it rain in this club.

Kate Hausbeck, UNLV sociology professor and an expert in prostitution, said the situation facing thousands of former construction workers now trying to hang on fits “the classic Old West definition of the need for a brothel, if you buy into that: migrant workers separated from their families.”

But she also said it may be a coincidence that the club and parlors are opening their doors now, just when the economy is sour. She noted that the sex industry has always been good at targeting niches, and the only thing that surprises her is that it took so long for entrepreneurs to find Hispanic customers here, when border states and even Florida have long offered sexo for sale.

But Jack Sheehan, who interviewed dozens of women in the sex trade earlier this decade for his book Skin City, said there may be something to the idea that thousands of out-of-work or barely-working guys far from home and alone may well be looking for some sort of escape.

“These guys have spare time, no job, they’re drinking more, they have low self-esteem … they’re adrift,” Sheehan said.

An increase in demand for strippers and hookers may well be “a ripple effect of a horrible economy that hits the lowest level of the economy the hardest,” he added.

Fernando is one of those guys. From Jalisco, he had a good six-year run building this valley’s houses before it all went to hell. He soon found himself seeking work in front of Home Depot to support his wife and three children. Then she took them to live with family in California, tired of stress over money.

He moved in with four guys. Some of them drank, went to strip clubs. He fell into the same.

“You just lose it after awhile,” he says. Now he’s working at a job delivering fliers on his bicycle, but some of his amigos stayed in a rut.

Maybe this is part of the reason why Dallas Hale, owner of Chicas, calls strip clubs “recession-proof.”

Maybe they are. A recent New York Times report suggested the same, noting that another very different niche market—Wall Street traders—were also seeking out a strip club where a canny promoter was actually raising prices, not lowering them—and offering promotions like used g-strings in return. Business was booming. “A lot of guys are losing their shirts in the market, and they are coming in droves,” the club owner beamed.

So maybe there’s something to the idea that hard-hit workers seek out carnal pleasures to forget their worldly woes.

As for what all these Latin chicas mean to the image of Las Vegas in the outside world, Sheehan said it’s still too early to tell.

If we get to the point where there’s 50 or more Latina massage parlors and strip clubs, he said, “then it would catch people’s attention—we’d become the Rio of the north.”

Now there’s a slogan.

Share

Previous Discussion:

  • The sex educator and owner of Detroit's Spectrum boutique brings her humor and expertise to AVN.

  • “Compared to my Ohio life, people are more positive here, more responsive to literary things.”

  • “We break down all the barriers that led them to become homeless, so they can become self-sufficient and sustain on their own.”

  • Get More As We See It Stories
Top of Story