Topless joint can't give money away
4 S.F. nonprofits refuse $4,330 donation from a North Beach strip club
Saturday, November 22, 2003
Mike Gasperec just learned the hard way that supposedly hang-up-free San Francisco and the Bible Belt have one thing in common: They're tough places to give away a strip club's money.
Four nonprofit organizations representing San Francisco's homeless, poor and cancer-stricken turned down a $4,330 gift from Gasperec's Penthouse Grille and Broadway Showgirls Cabaret topless club in North Beach over the past several weeks, saying they have reputations to protect.
Gasperec, the club's general manager, was surprised how hard it is to find someone to take the proceeds from a $195-per-person golf tournament the club had sponsored -- particularly in a town where the S&M-themed; Folsom Street Fair is nearly a civic holiday.
"I don't know what's wrong. I have a good life, and we're just trying to give a little something back," said Gasperec, a husband and father of a young daughter. He felt the same charitable rejection when he worked at strip clubs in South Carolina and Florida. "Our money is green."
It wasn't the color of the cash that spooked organizations, it was the specter of flesh. Even though California's budget deficits and shrinking foundation portfolios are forcing nonprofits to scrounge harder for cash, some preferred to refuse the free money and avoid any potential hassle.
"Unfortunately, we had to decline," said Julie Homan of the Breast Cancer Fund. "They were really nice and everything, but we didn't want to be associated with a gentlemen's club. We have 70,000 members, and we didn't want to offend anyone."
Raphael House, which provides shelter and after-care for homeless families, declined because, as a "clean-and-sober facility," it didn't want its name associated with an event where alcohol was served. "It was a very hard choice," said Development Director Jo-Ellen Peterson. "But we have a really good reputation in San Francisco, so we have to be very careful."
The Tenderloin Neighborhood Development Corp., which owns and manages 21 buildings in one of the city's most downtrodden neighborhoods, also said no, thanks.
'A reputation to keep up'
The group declined "because of the nature of the (gentlemen's club) business," spokesman Terry Sellards said. "Some people had a problem with that,
because they feel that (the adult entertainment) business exploits women.
"We've got a reputation to keep up," Sellards said.
The Hamilton Family Center, which provides emergency services and shelter to 350 homeless families every night in San Francisco, turned down the cash because "it didn't quite mix well with what we do here," said Executive Director Salvador Menjivar. "We have a lot of children here."
Even the Novato golf club that originally agreed to host the tournament backed out. The strip club finally held the fund-raiser Oct. 12 at an Oakland public golf course.
Fielding all that rejection "makes you feel like a schmuck," said Joe Carouba, president of BSC Management, which runs 12 strip clubs in San Francisco, including Broadway Showgirls.
Many dancers are mothers
About 40 percent of the 700 dancers at BSC clubs are mothers, and many of those mothers are raising families on their own, Carouba said. So he and Gasperec said they wanted to contribute to an organization that helps women and children in need.
But being spurned by charities, it turns out, is common in the stripping business.
From a Miami cancer center that refused to take proceeds from a stripper- led car wash in 1997, to a Wisconsin children's theater refusing cash from the fully clothed Hooters chain last year, history is full of organizations that have left money on the table.
Last week, three Southern California exotic-dance clubs were told that the Red Cross wouldn't accept their $5,484 pledge for victims of last month's wildfires. The Salvation Army took it instead.
And strip-club officials say the San Francisco firefighters' annual toy drive was initially a bit leery about publicly acknowledging that the city's least-clothed dancers donated $10,000 to its campaign last year -- and have done so for at least five years.
The donations come from lap dances in the clubs, where performers donate money every holiday season to the 54-year-old toy drive. Once or twice a night,
the DJ announces that some of the proceeds from the next dance will go toward a good cause and that patrons should dig into their pockets.
"The nice thing about our program is, the money comes in from all kinds of sources," said Dennis Kruger, a board member for the firefighters' toy drive. "Then we buy the toys and tell the kids it's from Santa.
"Regardless of what some people think of what people do for a living, the important thing is that all this money goes for the kids," Kruger said.
The upside of stripper rejection is that when one organization declines a gentlemen's club offer, the door of opportunity offers for others to claim the loot.
The big winner in this tale is Ruth Dewson, owner of a Fillmore Street hat store where San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown shops. Not only did Dewson accept the Broadway Showgirls check for her charitable foundation for Western Addition girls, Dewson put the club's oversize check in her store window.
"When they told me that people wouldn't accept the money, I couldn't believe it," Dewson said. "I don't care what they do. They're not going to be dancing naked in front of my store. They're just trying to do something nice."
E-mail Joe Garofoli at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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