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Last of Williston’s notorious strip clubs closes

WILLISTON, N.D. -- Erica has two children. Quty has a small daughter, and Alix is raising a daughter as well. They support their kids by performing as exotic dancers, and in the process formed a secondary family in a place that's gained -- fairly...

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Whispers and Heartbreakers strip clubs in Williston, N.D., pictured in October 2014, would not be allowed to offer adult entertainment downtown under proposed city ordinances. (Eric Hylden/Forum News Service)

WILLISTON, N.D. - Erica has two children. Quty has a small daughter, and Alix is raising a daughter as well.

They support their kids by performing as exotic dancers, and in the process formed a secondary family in a place that’s gained - fairly or unfairly - one of the most notorious reputations in the Williston area.

Now, though, as a result of city ordinances passed this year, the group that’s grown so close over the past five years is disbanding.

Friday night marked the last of topless dancing here, which for nearly two decades has drawn bar patrons to the south end of Main Street in Williston. Whispers, the longest-running of the city’s two strip clubs, switched over to a sports-bar theme earlier this year, after city commissioners voted to ban the sale of alcohol at exotic dancing venues, and gave them a year to relocate to industrial zones.

Heartbreakers, sitting just next door, set out to hang on longer, but when a notice arrived in February ordering either topless dancing or alcohol sales to stop within 90 days, about 15 women were told they’d soon be out of work here.

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“It’s just super sad to me because it’s a family here,” Alix, 23, said. She moved to Williston from Chicago after hearing about the money to be made as a dancer here.

Now, though, nightly earnings don’t add up to the cash that rolled in during the height of oil industry activity, when rowdy crowds of more than 200 passed through Heartbreakers, and bouncers with names like Beefy, Angry and Creepy were charged with keeping order.

The two strip clubs became known for fights, underage drinking and over-zealous security guards. After two men died as the result of confrontations that spilled onto the street, police began standing outside the bars every night at closing time.

In stark contrast to earlier days, on one evening this week just two customers sat at the bar as night closed in. The next night, the club was nearly empty and the stage lights dark well after the doors opened.

Still, the place brought in enough customers to support about 15 dancers, who last week were told they had just a few days left to work.

“If definitely affects me financially,” Erica, 35, said. “I think they’re doing what (they think) is what’s best for the city; they’re not concerned about people and their jobs. There’s bars all over here that have caused just as much trouble. I think they’re just labeling it because it’s a strip club.”

The dancer who goes by the stage name Quty, said she has started looking for “regular” work, but hasn’t lined up a job yet.

“I feel like it’s kind of like a slap in the face, most of the girls pay their rent off their income here,” she said.

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Jared Holbrook, the bar’s owner, is banking on a dramatic change to save the business. Heartbreakers closed Friday night and will reopen next Friday as a destination for the gay and lesbian community.

“It’s going to be rock and roll,” Holbrook said of opening night.

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