It’s Saturday night at Al’s Showplace, the former Greater St. John’s Baptist Church morphed into a strip club, and the place is rocking. Only in Nashville could pews be replaced with a dance pole and the organ by a deejay. Tonight’s marquee act, MercedezMiss Nude International “as seen in Hustler”struts confidently and buoyantly across the white, rectangular stage, the latter framed by three strips of pink neon and oddly reminiscent of a Becker’s birthday cake. Every demographic of male is visible in the audience, from businessman to gangster to out-of-town conventioneer, and every one of them wears the same sloe-eyed expression that restores luster to the phrase “taking it in.”
Mercedez doesn’t dance so much as walk from one end of the stage to the other, delivering the stare-down to the patronsmen and women alikepropped on barstools surrounding the stage. And the entertainment value, apart from the spectacle of her curvaceous nudity in motion, seems to be her ability to use her enhanced breasts to grab tips from customers’ lips; at other times, in a remarkable act of bodily control, she lowers her crotch to these same upturned faces and grabs the money with her vagina.
Everywhere else in the Charlotte Avenue club, there are beautiful women working the floorso many that it’s unnerving. They sit down at tables next to patrons and chat them up, taking some by the hand and leading them upstairs to the private lap dance area on the second-floor balcony. Or they tiptoe across the club wrapped in towels and freshly showeredif you have the dough and the desire, you can watch them showerbefore disappearing behind the folding doors for more steamy pleasure.
Or they just prowl and bop around. One sway-backed brunette is minimally clad in a schoolgirl’s cardigan skirt and ankle socks; she high-fives a suicide blonde in a revealing red-sequined dress and returns to the clientele. The gesture is completely surprising, an act of unexpected solidarity and abandon, as if her business here were less an exercise in her objectification than a wild costume party. Above, on the balcony, women grab the railing for lap dance leverage, gyrating atop their customers, then sink out of view. Only the backs of the customers’ heads are visible. “Remember to tip, gentlemen,” says the emcee in the deejay booth. “Because this isn’t Showtime. It’s pay per view.”
Al’s Showplace is just one part of local businessman Al Woods’ empire, a miniature industry that encompasses the First Amendment adult bookstore on Lafayette Street, Foxy’s strip club and bookstore on Division Street, dozens of publications that connect adults looking for sex partners, and just as many “900” phone lines. In the 1990s, Nashville saw a startling rise in the number of adult establishments, and Woods has been behind some of the most visible ones. In a way, he’s Nashville’s own version of Al Goldstein, the notoriously catankerous, self-promoting New Yorker who started Screw magazine in the 1970s. But if you’re inclined to think that Woods cuts the same sort of hairy, Buddha-bellied, self-indulgent figure as Goldstein, you’re wrong. Woods lays way too low for that. If anything, he wants people to think of him as a normal guy, a respectable entrepreneur, the businessman next door who happens to be one of the city’s biggest sex merchants.
It’s later Saturday night at the Tennessee Social Club. On Lafayette Street and attached to the sprawling First Amendment adult bookstore, TSC is Nashville’s most notorious swinger’s club, a place where men and women meet for just about anything. It’s $30 to get in on a Friday night, $50 on Saturday. Ladies, it almost goes without saying, get in free.
The club is really just a large dance hall, filled with small tables lit by votive candles that border the dance floor. A deejay sits in a raised booth. There are a couple of stages, the larger of which sports a dance pole. Woods gives me a friendly greeting at the door and shows me around. Tall with sharp features, he’s wearing a pressed shirt and tie. His white hair is combed back and rides a little high on his head, like a mane. He looks like the manager of a fine restaurant.
“We’ve got a couple of doctors here tonight,” he says. He likes to point out that swingers hang on every rung of the socioeconomic ladder. “And that woman over there, she just got her master’s.” Two women dance at the smaller stage, kissing and fondling each other and, for all practical purposes, naked. “Those girls got a show going on,” Woods says, chuckling. Couples are dancing a slow dance, foreheads to necks and hands to buttocks, shuffling side to side. A woman wearing a blazer with no blouse stands arms akimbo and listens intently to a conversation two men are having. Neither looks at her chest.
Woods breaks off for a moment to hug a couple on their way out, and they stop to talk. They bring him up to speed on their family, then thank him for the evening. A few minutes later, one of Woods’ daughtersfully clothedkisses him goodnight before she leaves. If all of this seems warm and fuzzy, in an odd way it is: Tennessee Social Club feels like Cheers in the raw.
“What’s your definition of a swinger?” Woods asks.
I tell him that a swinger is someone interested in swapping partners.
“That’s the general concept, but swingers are just open-minded people. What they do in the privacy of their own bedroom is their own business. I’m just providing a meeting place. It’s a gimmick. You get the people there. You charge a door fee. You make people happy. And at 2 a.m., you turn on the light and say, 'People, I got my money. It’s time to go home.’ ”
This is typical of the kind of self-commentary Woods offers, and it cuts right to what makes him such a complex figure. On the one hand, he’s a First Amendment defender and a privacy freak who’s well aware of his rights under the Constitutionand how those rights keep his many businesses humming. In Woods’ world, there’s no separation between profit and principle. At the same time, he’s a businessman who thrives on other people’s need for the ultimate quick fix and wears the moral eye patch necessary to keep himself half-blind to the consequences. In the same way that we know liquor stores willingly sell booze to alcoholics, we know that Woods is purveying a product that’s bound to have a negative effect on some of his patrons and his employees. Of course, Woods doesn’t see it that way.
And you might not see it that way talking to himat least not at first. In his middlebrow, low-key and sometimes contradictory way, he’s pure Nashville. On the one hand, he’s a family man with six children. On the other hand, the children are a Brady bunch from three marriages. He’s a Baptist, but doesn’t go to church regularly because “there are too many football games.” (He hasn’t missed a Titans’ game, home or away, for the past three years.)
Raised in poverty, he left his parents at 13 and was raised in a children’s home in Arkansas, where he stayed until he was a sophomore in college. “I liked the indoor plumbing, heat, three good meals a day and clothes that weren’t hand-me-downs,” he says. Not only did he manage to pick himself up by his own bootstraps, but he still regards the social workers who raised him as his family, and regularly contributes money to the children’s home.
Wary of ostentation, he drives a Lincoln Continental with the front all banged up. “It gets me from point A to point B,” he says. He even ran for an at-large Metro Council seat two years ago because he was “concerned about the waste of money in this town,” and managed to garner 12 percent of the vote. He’s determined to stay clean in a dirty business. And he winces when he hears people curse.
“He doesn’t fit the stereotype of an adult business owner,” admits Rob Joines, a government liaison for the Wilson County Christian Coalition. “He’s not sleazy. He’s interested in following the law. He shows up at Metro Council meetings, and you know what? You can’t get 10 pastors to do that.”
At the moment, Woods is pleased with himself. He has his hands in his pockets and is rocking back on his heels. It’s been a busy night at the Social Club. Al’s Showplace just had its biggest week since it opened last year, with a take of approximately $22,000. “The Sherwin Williams convention was in town,” he explains. Last year, First Amendment bookstore grossed more than $1.3 million in sales. Sept. 11 hurt business for the past few months, but Foxy’s bookstore and adjoining nightclub both have been hanging tough. And then there’s his mini publishing empire of adult-content magazines whose reach is nationwide. Indeed, business is good enough that Woods just bought a new househe’s refurbishing the 7,000-square-foot former Joy Mansion off Trinity Lane, complete with a 1,000-square-foot Titans room. Which brings us to a question many people want to ask Woods when they find out who he is and what he owns: How did he get into this business?
Al Woods came to Nashville from Arkansas in 1980. To make a living, he sold solar energy systems. His sister ran a bar on Murfreesboro Road called the Traveler’s Motor Lodge, across the street from WKRN-Channel 2, but when it started to tank later that year, Woods bought it from her and took it over. In an effort to boost patronage, he put two words on the marquee out front that permanently altered the course of his life: Swingers Welcome!
“It was just a gimmick,” he recalls, “just a way to get people in the door. And it worked, because things started picking up. So after about a month, I put an ad in The Tennessean welcoming swingers to the place, and next thing I knew, the bar was paying for itself.”
Sensing that he was onto something, Woods began to publish a swinger’s newsletter called Nashville Nightlife, a two-page mimeographed sheet with contact names, numbers and relevant information (e.g., “Married white couple looking for a male friend for fun and threesomes”), as well as a registration form for anyone wanting to submit their own contact information. Woods put a value of $5 on the newsletter, but didn’t collect. For months he gave away the newsletter at the bar. Then one week he went to Atlanta on business.
“I’d just hired a new bartender,” Woods recalls, “and when I got back there was an extra couple of hundred dollars in the register. And I said to the bartender, 'Where’d all this money come from?’ And she said, 'From the newsletter. I sold them.’ And that’s how I got into the publishing business.”
Woods had a product for swingers to use and a place for swingers to congregate. All he needed was distribution. To boost interest, he had his friends call around to all the adult bookstores in town asking for Nashville Nightlife. “When I walked into the bookstore with the newsletter, the proprietors said, 'Hey, we’ve been looking for this.’ ”
Demand began to exceed supply. Because many of the local adult bookstores were owned by people who also owned stores outside the state, traveling managers would spot the publication and ask Woods if he could get some copies to their stores in Louisville or Birmingham. Eager to oblige, he increased his circulation, then made the weekly distribution run himself. “Every Friday afternoon,” Woods says, “I’d stop off at the printer to pick up 1,000 magazines, cut them a check for $1,000, get in the car and deliver all night Friday through all day Sunday, making stops in Kentucky, Indiana, Alabamawherever. I’m sleeping in my car because I can’t afford a hotel room. A guy at a bookstore is giving me a check for $100, and I’m asking him if he could make it for $85 and spot me $15 in cash so I can put gas in my car and get home by Monday to make the deposit to cover the check that I wrote Friday.”
Woods did this for years. He made some money at it, but not a lot. When asked what kept him going, he shrugs his shoulders. “Just seeing it build.” Did he have visions of creating a publishing empire, of joining the ranks of Hustler and Playboy? “To be honest,” he admits, “I never thought about it. It just seemed the way to go, and I did it.”
Wasn’t there something that kept him toiling away? “I enjoyed meeting the people,” Woods offers. “The clerks at the bookstores, the proprietorsthey were open-minded, broad-minded. They didn’t put the gays, lesbians or blacks down. And besides, I was making a living.”
Look through Woods’ magazines now, and what you see are the last and vast vestiges of a gigantic, successful, albeit dying industry, as the Internet slowly but surely kills the contact magazine business. More and more people seeking anonymous sex are using chat rooms and Web sites, so Woods himself is adapting. “Personally, I don’t know how to turn on a computer,” he says. “But we’ve got a site up at www.swingpartners.com.”
Not that APD Publications“That’s Adult Publications Division; people don’t like to make checks out to adult businesses”didn’t have a great run. Locally, Woods publishes four Nashville contact magazines: Nashville Swinging Community, Tennessee Direct Contact, Tennessee Swinger and Tennessee Swinger Express. He publishes several other similar publications nationallyFor Single Men Only, Wildside, The Social Magazine and Preferred Lovers (a gay and bisexual publication)plus direct contact magazines for every state in the country, produced on demand and delivered COD.
The higher-end magazines have state-by-state listings of swingers’ clubs, the names as comical and parodic as those of hardcore porn flicks: Fore-Play Ranch, Plato’s Repeat, Dreams Cum True. The primary revenue stream is advertising: the full-page glossy ads for 900-number date lines, ads for videos, sex toys and marital aids. Contact with the swingers listed happens over these 900 numbers, and not surprisingly, Woods owns most of the numbers in his own magazines.
It’s this secondary business that Woods got into in the early ’90s. As with adult content publishing, he just fell into it. When one of his advertisers who was running a date-line service couldn’t pay him for an ad, the man offered to get Woods into the 900 business. Woods took him up on it, purchased several numbers, then began to advertise them in his own magazines and in the highest-circulation skin mags.
“These weren’t sex lines,” Woods explains. “These were date lines. Contact lines. But because I ran the ads for them in adult magazines, people assumed they were sex lines. And that was my gimmick. We even ran some in Hustler and Playboy, took advantage of their circulation and made some money. But then they realized the 900 business was good and wouldn’t let anyone else advertise numbers with them.”
It’s a nickel-and-dime business. But circulate 200,000 magazines a year and operate hundreds of 900 numbers, and those nickels and dimes add up. In the early ’90s, Woods was taking in more than $50,000 a year just from the phone numbers themselves. “And that was good,” he says, “because I wasn’t doing anything.”
If you’ve ever heard that Nashville is a big swingers’ town, you can credit Woods for its reputation. The Tennessee Social Club outgrew its venue at Traveler’s Motor Lodge within a year of its first party in 1980. That same year, his first marriage ended. Later that year, Woods met his second wife at a swingers’ party. By 1981, Woods was holding TSC parties every third Saturday of the month all over Nashville. By 1986, his second marriage was over. By 1993, motels around Nashville hosted TSC parties every weekend. Ask Woods if he partook of The Lifestyle, and he smiles fondly, answering cagily: “Oh, I enjoyed myself very much.” In 1992, he married his current wife, whose privacy he vehemently safeguards. They’ve been married happily ever since.
In 1995, Woods expanded his interests to the adult bookstore and nightclub businesses. It was his first step toward becoming something of a local skin giant. At the same time, it moved him into more hardcore territory. Unlike the 900 numbers or swinger magazines, Woods was now in a business where people made contact in public, which is much different than helping people make contact privately. Jerry Pendergrass, owner of the gigantic Metro News adult bookstore on Fifth Avenue South, was selling two of his other properties, the Odyssey Club and its adjoining bookstore, located on Division Street across from Frugal MacDoogal’s. It’s hard to pin down Woods about his motivation for buying these properties. “I didn’t think about it,” Woods says about the purchase. “I just did it. Honestly, at the time I didn’t know what my interest in it was. I just knew Jerry Pendergrass wanted to sell it one day, and if I didn’t buy it he’d have changed his mind by the next.”
Woods purchased the business for $300,000 and the property for $575,000, and renamed the establishments Foxy’s. He expanded in ’98, leasing the space on Lafayette Street that First Amendment bookstore now occupies. (He bought it last year for $900,000.) Needless to say, nearly $2 million is a lot of cash to drop without thinking.
Press Woods and he confesses that he was aware of the money Metro News was making. Catering primarily to homosexuals, the bookstore grossed as much as $50,000 a week. Woods saw an opportunity with Odyssey Club. “I wanted the business,” Woods admits. “I was associated with it through my magazines, and I saw a market. Most of the bookstores were gay, and I felt there was a need for a heterosexual business. It was a good business, and it was providing a service for people.”
But that depends on what kind of service you think you’re providing and whether that service is “good.” So far as Woods is concerned, his adult bookstores, with their peep show token booths, are simply places for people to watch adult material. “I’m trying to get that individual in my store who’s on his way home from work and wants to kill an hour before he gets into traffic. Someone who wants to watch a movie in privacy. And I want to give him that right as an individual.”
He thinks First Amendment has been so successful because of its location. People see competitor Metro News’ giant billboard on I-40, get off the interstate, but have to pass the big blue monstrosity of First Amendment to get there. “A lot of them think I’m it,” he chuckles, as if to give new credence to the claim that in business, as in real estate, it’s location, location, location. He likes to make a big deal about how clean, well-stocked and well-lit his stores are.
He also likes to note that his products are far more mainstream than most people would like to believe: “We have more professional people coming into our bookstoreand I’d say about 40 percent are women. And on weekends too. From all walks of life.”
But a visit to Foxy’s doesn’t bear out that claim. On a Friday afternoon around 3 p.m., there are approximately 10 cars in the store’s lot. All the customers are men. Inside the bookstore is exactly what you’d expect: hard-core pornography on the shelves, ranging from videos to DVDs, some of it harder than you can believe. There are sex toys and gag gifts and an all-male section in the back. Customers mill around and make eye contact. A couple of guys compare the makes of various dildos. After a while, a few duck back to the private theaterfor $5 a pop, there’s porn running on the screenor to the token booths.
These booths, or peep shows, are a huge component of most adult bookstores and remain a known congregating spot for anonymous encounters, primarily in the gay community. There are holes, known as “glory holes,” knocked out in the sheetrockthere for acts of voyeurism and anal or oral sex. To the patronage, they’re the central draw of these bookstores. Meeting areas state to state are even reviewed on various sites on the Internet, like cruisingforsex.com. (“Two large glory holes between the back four booths on the left hand side, big enough to stick your head through; smaller glory hole between the two middle booths on the right side. Small peek holes in...” says one comment about Odyssey, misnaming Woods’ store but stating the correct location. “Great cock action, then things slow down. But the action picks up again around 3:30 p.m. to about 6 p.m.” The postings are dated September and December 2001, respectively.)
Most bookstores require patrons to buy rolls of tokens for $5 or $10 to enter the peep area, each token worth about 60 to 90 seconds of viewingthough, in fact, it’s less for porn and more the price of admission for cruising the booths. The hallway is dark at Foxy’s and black-lit, so that the white doors, each one numbered and ajar, glow purple. Inside the booth are a screen and two lit coin plungers. There’s a chair as well, but the seat is well below the screen, level with a glory hole. There’s a strong smell of ammonia in the hallway.
Talk to former cruisers on the adult bookstore scene, and they’ll give a graphic account of how intense the activity at these places is. “You walk around for a while,” says a recovering sex and pornography addict who’s now a manager at a major Nashville hotel. “You’re trying to make contact with someone you find attractive. And if you do, and they express an interest in you, you walk in a booth, and leave the door open, and they follow you in; or you find a booth with a glory hole and you watch each other masturbate to see if it’s someone you want to be with, and then you have anal or oral sex. When I was addicted, it wasn’t uncommon to be there for four hours at a time. You’re regularly spending money in the booths. The sex was seldom protected. There were some people there every night. I would go two nights every three weeks. I’d have as many as 10 encounters a night.
“I was never in a bookstore that didn’t have glory holes. The people who manage these places are absolutely making these holes for business reasons. That’s what people go there for. If they didn’t have them, they wouldn’t go. The voyeurism and exhibitionism are important parts of the addictionthat’s where people get their highs.”
Janice Johnson, a Nashville mother and pro-family activist, bristles at the idea of such places. “These businesses are a public health hazard,” she says. “Diseases are spread there regularly. They’re bad for property values in the surrounding businesses, because of the support services that surround these establishmentsthe prostitution and the drug sales. They’re a blight on the community in general. And the activity that goes on in these businesses is illegal. 'Bookstore’ is a euphemism for sexually oriented business. People go there for anonymous sexual encounters.”
Carolyn McKenzie, a public health nurse in Memphis and a consultant for the state in these matters, echoes Johnson’s view. Her experience is vast. She has helped 48 women and two menstrippers and sex addictsleave the adult industry.
“In the day of AIDS,” McKenzie says, “you cannot have businesses that accommodate any person from your community coming in at will and having random sex acts with someone else and think that you’re not going to raise an epidemic of numerous communicable diseases.”
Accommodating these acts is, in fact, great business. Say, even conservatively, that a bookstore open 24 hours a day seven days a week averages three men an hour spending $5 a person in the token booths alone, and you have a business that grosses more than $131,000 a year. Although Woods won’t give exact figures, he admits, “a third of the income is token boothsa third to half. Token booths are a pretty good business.”
But ask Woods how he feels about the fact that this kind of behavior happens in one of his bookstores, and his response is terse. “Anyone that’s taking that chance I feel sorry for. Having unprotected sex is irresponsible, no matter where you have it.”
It’s a code violation to have glory holes in these establishments. When it’s mentioned to Woods that there were glory holes in Foxy’s, he’s appreciative that he was given thefor lack of a better phraseheads up. “I’m glad you told me that,” Woods says. “Because if someone were to notify me that there were glory holes at my bookstore, I’d cover them up right away. And it’s been four months since anyone’s told me that Foxy’s had any glory holes.” Do the anonymous-sexual-encounter math, and that statement isn’t very comforting.
There are similar health concerns about strip clubs. “You have girls in nothing but G-strings,” McKenzie says, “girls who shave every night and have fresh, open skin on their legs and crotch areabringing men to arousal and ejaculation and then rubbing up against this matter through the men’s pants. In one raid I worked on with the police, we arrested 26 girls for prostitution. Nine of the women tested positive for venereal diseases, and two had two forms of STDs at the same time. None would let me test them for AIDS.”
Ask Woods about his girls and he’s quick to point out that the business at Al’s Showplace is nothing but a straight-up transaction between independent contractors and an employerthey pay the club a fee to dance there and make good money in return. “We’ve got four or five Vandy girls at Al’s Showplace. They come in, do their business, and they leave. It’s a job to them. They’ve got nice bodies, they like to dance and people are willing to pay them to do it.” As for these people willing to pay: “The majority of people coming to my strip clubs are married men out for a good time who don’t want their wives to know about it,” Woods says. “They’re going to the club to see some T&A, and that’s all they’re looking for. And then they’re going home. When we had a little lingerie shop,” Woods chuckles, “we sold a lot of stuff guys took home to their wives because maybe they felt guilty.”
Maybe Woods is just old-fashioned. Or maybe he’s just an innocent. Though, to quote Saul Bellow, “it’s a sin to be so innocent.”
More likely, he’s performing a very tricky juggling act between profit and means. To pull it off requires a mind capable of tremendous powers of compartmentalization. Practically speaking, it demands that Woods maintain a layer of management between himself and what goes on in his various establishmentsboth the strip clubs and the adult bookstoreswhich is exactly what Woods does. He’s a self-described bottom-line guy who doesn’t hire or fire, who stays out of management and all aspects of day-to-day operations at all of his establishments, a guy who, when he does happen to visit Al’s Showplace, will occasionally get stopped by bouncers for wandering into the restricted areas because they don’t know who he is. “I just make sure the taxes are paid, and the money is deposited right,” he says. He speaks highly of the crews he has working for him at all of his establishmentsthough he chuckles in frustration at the flightiness of some of his dancers. He admits that the managers are never sure if the ladies are going to show up. Some of his employees have been working with him for over a decade, and he’s as attached to them as members of his own family.
He’s either reached that point all businessmen dream of when they can let their businesses run themselves; or he’s finally able to keep as deaf an ear and as blind an eye as possible to what actually goes on in his miniature empire. He gives the impression that he tries to stay out of the fray as much as he can. Unless, of course, he happens to be breaking the law.
And speaking of the law. There are two ways that Metro is involved with adult businesses. The first is zoning. If a business is deemed adult, it has to remain in a designated area of the city or it can be shut down. The law is designed to “minimize disruption to the general community.”
The second way Metro is involved is by way of licensing. In 1997, in an effort to regulate adult businesses, the Metro Council adopted the Sexually Oriented Business ordinance. Sponsored by at-large Council member Chris Ferrell, it is a comprehensive, demanding ordinance designed to collect identifying information about adult-oriented businesses, to keep convicted sex offenders from working in them, and to sternly penalize businesses that don’t run their establishments according the law.
The ordinance covers everything from the design of adult businesses (no doors on token booths) to how close dancers can get to patrons (a three-foot buffer between dancer and patroni.e., no more lap dances). The ordinance is designed to minimize the so-called “secondary effects” of these businesses, specifically the health concerns. Open booths would deter bookstore patrons from engaging in anonymous sex, because their actions would be visible from the main floor. A buffer zone in the strip clubs protects the dancers from contact with patrons. Stern penalties would reduce instances of quasi-prostitution and related crimes.
Jerry Pendergrass, a local businessman who owns several adult-oriented businesses, contested the ordinance in federal court. The court affirmed part of the ordinance and threw out another part, which enjoined Metro from enforcing any of the regulations. The court found that the city’s definition of “sexually oriented” was unconstitutionally broad. In layspeak, that means that to regulate something protected by the First Amendment, the legislative language must be so specific that it avoids regulating other forms of expression. (The courts have a high standard in these cases, and civil libertarians regard that as a good thing. Otherwise, police could storm Green Hills 16 for showing Halle Berry’s breasts in Swordfish because the cinema is outside the adult business overlay.)
As a practical matter, the issue of the term “sexually oriented” being overly broad is a straw man, as the city need only remove the phrase from the legislation. In fact, while the case is on appeal, the only issue that really remains is that of “prompt judicial review.” In other words, the city must create a better way for those with objections or challenges to the law’s provisions to be heard.
District Attorney Torry Johnson sees this as positive. “My hope is that once we have an enforceable ordinance, the city will become very aggressive in enforcing the letter of the law. And I think the city is poised to do that.”
In 1995, lawmakers at the state level adopted the Tennessee Adult Oriented Establishment Act, whose constitutionality was then challenged by an adult business owner. The law requires that booths always have one side openi.e., no doorsand it was tied up in the courts until last month. The court’s recent decision, Metro law director Karl Dean says, is “a very positive development.”
But Woods suggests that there are plenty of ways around these laws. Take the doors off the booths and what you might see is something happening at these bookstores all over the country. The operators install satellite systems with 400 channels, 50 of which are adult, and put the doors back on. A customer walks in the booth and turns on the television. “Then he can choose what he wants to watch, and if he chooses adult content over Mickey Mouse, that’s his choice,” Woods says. “Restrict that individual and you’re taking away his rights. And we could open up in Belle Meade, because we’re no longer an adult business.”
Johnson shakes his head at such efforts to avoid being an “adult” business. “There are all manner of dodges to argue that these activities are protected by the First Amendment,” he says.
What about the strip clubs? Install the buffer zone that Ferrell’s ordinance requires, and Woods suggests that there’s a similar way around the law. You’ll see bikini bars pop up all over town, Woods predicts, and the girls will be wearing the skimpiest bikinis imaginable and be able to lap dance all they want. That’s because they’re not nudeperfectly legal. “And we could get liquor and beer licenses and open out of the zone,” he adds.
It’s moments like these when you realize Al Woods, Nashville’s sex kingpin, wants to remain up and running and will either adapt to the city’s legal weather to stay that way, or go around the city if necessary. He believes strongly in the First Amendment, but like any adult business owner, he’s not above exploiting it. Asked if he’s a scourge, he replies true to form: “People have a right to their opinion. I was in the military, and I fought in Vietnam for our right to believe whatever we want. It doesn’t mean I agree with it. I provide a service for people who have a need. If there wasn’t a need out there, people wouldn’t come to my business. And I’m trying to do it in a very upscale, clean environment.”
Scourge or regular guy, Al Woods will be with us for a long time. He’s got no reason to do anything else. Business is just too good.
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