At a staff meeting this afternoon, the managers of the Lusty Lady announced they were going out of business and would permanently close their doors in just two months.
Gypsy, a dancer at the Lusty Lady, said the meeting was "heartbreaking" and "very, very emotional" as general manager Darrell Davis, longtime location manager Deborah Seaver, and staff members told stories about working at the iconic, woman-managed peepshow.
Despite the landlord cutting their rent several times in recent years, the Lusty can't afford to pay its bills. "It's really the world economic climate," Davis said in an interview after the meeting. "Amazingly, pornography is not recession-resistant. The other recessions we've had in the past have not had much impact before. But we're right across the street from the Washington Mutual Tower, all the small sandwich shops nearby are closing—there's just no traffic."
The internet has also steadily eroded business. "We had our all-time high in 1998," Davis said. "The fact that you can get massive amounts of fairly high-quality pornography for free has had a definite effect."
The peepshow was originally called the Amusement Center—company lore says it took its name from the already-existing sign for a business that used to have pinball machines. "Then we changed to adult amusement, 16mm films called 'Panorams,'" Davis said. In 1981, the Amusement Center installed its first New York-style peepshow (live dancers on a mirrored stage with two private booths for viewing) and in 1985 changed it name to the Lusty Lady, after a San Francisco business Davis and the other owners had opened.
The SF location was sold to an employee cooperative in the early 2000s and Davis and the other managers focused their efforts on the Seattle location.
The Lusty is known as a friendly, family business. "Candy [sister of manager Deborah Seaver] still sometimes gets up to dance on holidays," Gypsy said. "Their daughters work there, too."
"We're amazingly different," Davis said. "There used to be this idea that 'those kinds of women' weren't dependable or reliable, all these assumptions about people who take off their clothes and dance for a living. And we're women-managed. I've been shocked to hear women say they've felt safer working at the Lusty Lady than in a law office and I'm like 'what?!' Like the RCA dog with my head cocked: I just couldn't believe the stories of sexual harassment."
"I had a very, very hard time not crying at the meeting," Davis continued. "One of the women got up and told Deborah that she had taught her all the things her own mother hadn't—you could take that sentiment and reproduce it a thousand times for lots of the women who worked with Deborah over the years."
Mimi Gates, stepmother of Bill Gates and director of the Seattle Art Museum, said "The Lusty Lady's marquee is a Seattle landmark."
In 2006, the Seattle Lusty Lady survived a threatened wrecking ball when the building's owner, a Seattle family, refused a multi-million-dollar tear-down offer from developers of a new Four Seasons Hotel next door. The owners instead received $850,000 "for air rights to the views over their property". Employees celebrated by posting on their reader board: "We're Open, Not Clothed!"
Mimi's right: the Lusty's marquee is a Seattle treasure. More photos of it here.