The Showtime Gentlemen’s Club on La Salle Avenue has curve appeal, one might say, with signage that includes female forms in silhouette.
It has been around since the late 1960s, probably opened in 1969, as best that owner Randy Roberts could recall during an interview Wednesday. Roberts is selling the building, with an asking price of $1.7 million for the structure and contents.
Roberts said he doubts a new owner would open another sexually oriented business at 1821 La Salle Ave., which is how the city of Waco classifies strip clubs and other establishments featuring seminude performances.
“I don’t see anybody coming in here with a gentlemen’s club. I don’t know that they can. I don’t have any idea,” said Roberts, who has reopened after a 90-day shutdown because of COVID-19 restrictions.
Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission spokesperson Chris Porter confirmed Showtime secured a food and beverage certificate “and their status indicates alcohol sales comprise less than 51% of their gross receipts.”
“This would make them eligible to operate as a restaurant,” Porter said.
Roberts believes The Showtime Gentlemen’s Club is the only topless establishment left operating in McLennan County, with its longtime competitor, Two Minnies Gentlemen’s Club, 641 Ruby Ave., having called it quits. Porter said Two Minnies had its liquor license canceled in 2015.
“If they’re operating, it’s without a TABC permit,” Porter said.
“TABC doesn’t track or separately permit sexually oriented businesses, so I’m unable to say for sure how many similar businesses are in the county,” Porter said. “Applying for a TABC license exposes a business to considerably more scrutiny, so many gentlemen’s clubs don’t go that route. They don’t have that revenue source, preferring instead a BYOB approach.”
City of Waco spokesperson Larry Holze said Showtime is considered a sexually oriented business, and its license to operate as such is nontransferable.
Though doing business since the late 1960s, according to Roberts, The Showtime Club does not hold title to the longest-running liquor license still active in McLennan County, said Porter, the TABC spokesperson. His records show the club secured the license it currently operates under in 1977.
“I’ve been unable to confirm that there was a permit issued at that address prior to that year,” Porter said. “It’s possible Mr. Roberts may have run the business in a different location, but I’m unable to confirm that.”
The Elk Lodge in Axtell received a liquor license in 1959 that remains active, making it the oldest in McLennan County, Porter said.
Roberts said his father, Ray Roberts, first had a club called Top Cat, located on Interstate 35, before moving to La Salle Avenue and changing names.
Randy’s parents divorced when he was young. His mother, Anne, married a military man who traveled the world, Roberts told the Tribune-Herald in 1998. Randy attended high school in Hawaii before returning to Texas, where he enrolled at Sam Houston State, then went to work for his dad at Showtime.
Roberts struck out on his own in 1988, opening Kelley’s nightclub on North New Road. It soon became one of the most popular clubs in town among singles, generating $1.4 million in revenues its third year of operation. Roberts became “bored,” he told the Tribune-Herald, and sold the club to Mike Spehr, who gave it a new spin and a new name: The Martini Factory.
The Showtime Club was always home base, Roberts said.
“I’ve just had it forever,” he said. “But this is it.”
Twenty dancers perform at The Showtime Club, “though not all at the same time,” Roberts said, chuckling under his breath. “They’re on their own. That’s their deal. They come in, and then move on when they need to. Other than that, we have bouncers, who are not really bouncers, bartenders, waitresses and the DJ guys. Many have been with me forever.”
Hunter Harrell, who is listing the property with Harrell Real Estate Services, said a prospect from Florida “envisions a national-type deal. Waco is in the spotlight, and the real estate market is still churning even through the pandemic.”
Harrell said he has personally conducted two tours and has three more leads.
He and Roberts established an asking price for the 3,922-square-foot building on a half-acre after investigating deals on comparable properties, Harrell said. Marketing material says the building enjoys “excellent visibility and proximity to Interstate 35,” and sees both local and out-of-town traffic.
“It’s unique and offers redevelopment opportunities right there on La Salle Avenue. Its proximity to the traffic circle and Baylor University also work in its favor,” Harrell said. “The way the market is right now, we thought it was a good time to put it up for sale, to see what we could get.”
Emily Mills co-founded a local ministry, Jesus Said Love, that provides resources and support to women wanting to leave the commercial sex trade. She and her staff have visited The Showtime Club on several occasions.
Word of the sale creates mixed emotions, she said Wednesday.
“I know a dancer who used to work at Showtime. She doesn’t live in Waco, and she’s been out of the industry for a while. I actually had heard about the club going on the market, and we talked about that,” Mills said. “She said, ‘All the places I love, the places where I made the best memories of my life, are all shutting down now.’ A lot of these clubs did represent family to some women, not because of the client but what they had together.”
A lack of resources is generally what keeps women in the industry, she said.
“We’ve found that 89% of the women in this line of work want out, but don’t have another means of survival,” Mills said.
She said she has seen a steady decline in strip club patronage the past 10 years, as the focus pivots to online entertainment and escort services.
“Just because clubs aren’t making money does not mean sex for sale is going away,” Mills said. “We have to think about the issue differently.”
Roberts said The Showtime Club historically opens daily except Sunday, and attendance throughout the evening hovers at about 75.