This weekend on September 2, the country's first worker-owned cooperative peep show will shutter for good. While the performers promised to give the club a proper sendoff, over the weekend we sent photographer Joshua Cobos to capture some final looks through the glass of the Lusty Lady.
Here's how Cobos described the scene over the weekend:
Losing the club seems like an insurmountable set back but the girls in the co-op have always been strong and resilient. The Lusties are professional dancers, lawyers, artists, activists and full-time sex-workers with their fingers on the pulse of a changing San Francisco. I was told the group wants to continue on in some formation if the co-op can effectively establish new avenues and connections. Hopefully our city stays focused on this institution that promotes female empowerment & self-reliance until something new rises out of the ashes.
In the time since news of the closure broke last week, much ink has been spilled over what it means for San Francisco, for feminism, and for sex workers to lose the space. San Francisco Magazine recounted the club's history as a gathering place for sex workers and activists. The place where Carol Queen and Courtney Trouble and countless others performed before going on to impact everything from pornography to public health to national politics.
Then there's the matter of the dwindling character of North Beach. With the worker-owned small business gone, the Seattle-based Deja Vu Entertainment will have a monopoly on strip clubs in the city, S.F. Weekly reported last week. The New Yorker rightly described the Lusties as "some combination of Rosie the Riveter mixed with 'Showgirls' " that tend to be "feminist, queer and punk-rock types" we associate with San Francisco. Deja Vu, on the other hand, is better known for charging their barbie doll blonde dancers a fee for the privilege of dancing for businessmen stepping out from their downtown conferences or folks looking for a slice of Vegas in North Beach.
"[The Lusty Lady] felt like a sorority of hardworking, largely working-class women with amazing senses of humor," one alumna explained in Michelle Tea's oral history of the place. "I don’t know if there’s something about being naked in a fish tank for hours or the kinds of women who work there, but I have never made so many friends at a workplace before.”
Roger Forbes — the landlord who balked after verbally agreeing to a lower rent for the Lusty Lady and effectively squeezed out the co-op with barely two weeks notice, has his own connections to Deja Vu. Forbes has owned the building for nearly fifteen years and claims he was simply fed up with dealing with the business. On the other hand, as one of the Lusties told the New Yorker as she worked the front door recently, Forbes is "a dildo and didn't want to negotiate."
The co-op was not without its internal trouble either; the club has been threatened several times in the past decade. Most recently, the negotiations were left up to Scott "Big Red" Farrell, whose agreement allowed him to make decisions without consulting the Board of Directors. After notifying the group about the closure via email early last Tuesday morning, Farrell was fired by the Lusty Lady's Board on Friday for "gross negligence."
The peep show goes on for now, at least until this weekend when the last dances start at 11 a.m. on Sunday and go until 3 a.m. Monday morning when the last shutter will slide closed on one of the Lusty Lady's unionized performers, appropriately enough, on Labor Day.
Previously: The Lusty Lady To Close In Two Weeks