Club closes doors; owner blames ordinances

Published 12:00 am Sunday, December 22, 2002

NATCHEZ &045; Saying county officials are legislating morality faster than he can fight the ordinances in court, the owner of Adams County’s only strip club is closing its doors.

Given ordinances passed by county supervisors in recent years, &uot;I can’t compete with places like Woodville and Port Gibson,&uot; which both have such clubs, said Curtis Coble, owner of Southern Belles Caberet.

The club, which was located on U.S. 61 just north of Natchez, closed its doors to customers Dec. 10.

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Supervisors in May 1998 passed an ordinance barring alcohol sales in adult entertainment businesses. In October, they changed it to bar such businesses near churches, schools or houses and made it a crime for even partially nude dancers to perform within six feet of patrons.

Coble was arrested in May 1998 under the original ordinance and, since then, has filed several lawsuits against it. In March, a federal judge ruled that there was no evidence the business was open before the ordinance was passed.

Although supervisors justified passing the ordinance based on strip clubs’ secondary effects, such as increased crime and lowered property values, Coble said this week he would like to see local figures to back that up.

&uot;’Secondary effects’ Š is used as an excuse for every intrusion into our liberties,&uot; Coble said, citing gun control laws as another example. &uot;To the government and the moralist elite, everything has potentially damaging secondary effects.&uot;

But even the most benign choices, like driving to work or befriending someone who smokes, have secondary effects, Coble said.

&uot;Freedom and liberty always have secondary effects,&uot; he said. &uot;Encroaching on our freedoms like this has the secondary effect of promoting slavery &045; and I’m a slave to no one.&uot;

It is contrary to the spirit of America’s founders to restrict free choice, Coble said.

In any case, he said, government should spend more effort going after rapists and murderers &045; even deadbeat dads &045; than in scaring away businesses and attempting to legislate morality.

&uot;We should not pretend we can create God’s kingdom on earth through legislation,&uot; he said.

But those who fought to tighten laws governing strip clubs were overjoyed to hear the club was closing its doors.

&uot;We’ve waited a long time for this to happen,&uot; said supervisors Vice President Lynwood Easterling, in whose district the strip club was located.

&uot;I just hope we have enough ordinances to keep something else like this from opening here,&uot; Easterling said.

The supervisor said he received numerous complaints about Southern Belles in recent years from nearby homeowners, business owners and churches.

Although he has been the pastor of First United Pentecostal Church of Natchez for just three months, the Rev. James Johnson said his congregation was also glad to hear of Southern Belles’ closing.

&uot;Some of the church people were really thrilled,&uot; said Johnson, whose church is located near the strip club building.

&uot;They felt it was an eyesore to the city, and as close as it was to the church, Š they felt it was just a bad thing in this area,&uot; Johnson said.