It seems logical enough for business owners around the new Midtown strip club, Vivid, to be a bit put off by the intrusion of the skin trade in their neighborhood. After all, the club is a members-only titty haunt for fat-walleted NFL players, rich businessmen and the kind of clientele who revere three-piece suits and Lincoln Navigator limousines. But the man who receives the brunt of the criticism, Vivid's landlord Jimmy Lewis, an amiable enough businessman once convicted of operating an illegal gambling enterprise, gives it right backthough somewhat illogically.
He says that his critics shouldn't waste their breath complaining about a high-end strip club whose stock- in-trade, so to speak, happens behind closed doors. But that's when his argument gets weird. What's truly offensive, the white-haired Lewis insists, is the classical sculpture in the Music Row Roundabout, Musica.
"I don't know why people are upset," he says. "I think the naked statue by Demonbreun is worse. That's more offending to me than a dance club. I have two grandchildren who snicker and laugh when I drive by there." (He doesn't say whether his grandchildren know that he makes his living, in part, from being a strip club landlord.)
Lewis says that the Musica statue is outwardly vulgar and sexual, but the strip club's nudity is discreet. "If a kid rode by [Vivid] on a bike, they wouldn't know what it was. But when they ride by these nude statues, it's kind of hard to miss. They've got naked men and women!"
Oddly enough, Lewis' leasing agent, Jim Boyd, is of the same mind, even going so far as to say that classical sculptures such as the Venus de Milo and David should be kept indoors and shouldn't be shown to children. "I think it's inappropriate when you put it right out there for the general public. Inside a museum or art gallery, that's OK," Boyd says.
Isn't it just like a strip club debate to get preachy?
The businesses surrounding 19th Avenue and Division, a thriving urban business district, include a karaoke bar, hair salon, law association and upscale eateries. None seem pleased with the new addition to the neighborhood, but nobody is quite as close to the problem as Cassie Aitkens, operator of Hot Yoga Nashville. Vivid has opened on the first floor of the building where Aitkens runs her yoga studio, and no number of downward dog poses has given her peace about this development.
"I'm very upset about it, only because I was led to believe that a much more tasteful establishment would be going in there," she says. Aitkens says that, so far, most of her students remain committed to the yoga studio and continue to take classes. But, "Some of the more conservative population that come from Belle Meade haven't been attending as much," she says.
Lewis, who owns the 1907 Division building that Hot Yoga and Vivid call home, sees no problem with his new renters. "I don't care what it is as long as they pay their rent. I have one building that's a Christian bookstore. If a church came along and paid rent first, I wouldn't mind. I don't have a problem."
The club falls within Metro's Adult Entertainment Overlay, a designated zone for adult businesses to operate as long as they're 500 feet or more from all churches and schools. Hot Yoga is neither a church nor a school, a fact that, contrary to recent rumors, Cassie Aitkens readily admits.
"I always tell my students that yoga isn't a religion," she says. "It gets in touch with your personal spirituality, but that's it. Maybe there's an angle that Hot Yoga is a school, but not a traditional one. And it's not a church."
Boyd says Aitkens has no room for complaint. "She had a first right of refusal on the space and decided she didn't need it or didn't want to take it." Lewis agrees, saying "[Aitkens] is always bellyaching over something. When Armo's Body Shop was there, the music was too loud. She's a chronic complainer. If a church opened up there, she probably wouldn't like that either."
Aitkens says that she has no problem with the music or noise coming from Vivid; the club operates between the hours of 11 p.m. and 5 a.m. when Hot Yoga isn't open. She also recognizes that the club has brought at least one advantage to her business. "They've increased the security and the lighting in the surrounding parking, so my students who go in the afternoon and evening are safer."
But she denies that she was offered first right of refusal and adds that the drawbacks outweigh the good. "They ripped down my sign...without telling me and put their sign on top of it. They've taken away all my visibility. They've barricaded half the parking lot for valet with permanent barricades when they don't open until 11 p.m."
The level of acrimony between Aitkens, on one side, and Boyd and Lewis, on the other, has reached something of a climax, so to speak, with the two playing off each other in the greatest "he said, she said" frenzy Midtown has seen in years.
Unlike Boyd and Lewis, Aitkens doesn't care about nude sculptures; she just wants her sign back. She says she's invested a lot of time and money into her Hot Yoga studio and doesn't plan on leaving any time soon. It looks like she and her antagonists will continue to fight until they're satisfiedor become too exhausted from trying.
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