Though Austin Street had
its fair share of rowdy watering holes, residents in the area weren’t
keen on the idea of their posh, upscale shopping district turning into
the red light district of Forest Hills.
Almost immediately after
it opened its doors, the club was bombarded with protest. The Forest
Hills Chamber of Commerce launched a committee, responsible solely for
attempting to pull the curtain on the hottest show in town.
Karen Koslowitz and then-Representative Charles Schumer took the lead in
fighting what they said was a distasteful transgression over their
squeaky clean constituency’s rights (Koslowitz is now deputy Borough
President and Schumer is New York’s senior U.S. Senator.)
Lawrence Silverstein, the owner of the building in which Runway 69 was leasing its space, told Janet Tarpey, then a reporter at the Tribune, that if it were up to him, he wouldn’t be leasing to a strip club, either.
But Silverstein was bound
by a ten-year lease that did not prohibit the lessee from opening up an
exotic dancing establishment.
Silverstein, a Forest
Hills resident, may have been red in the face when his community showed
up outside his offices wearing angry faces and shouting slogans against
his operation. But he was also the cause of some embarrassment for
another Silverstein– Larry, the real estate magnate and former
head of the Real Estate Board of New York. The New York Times
reported on that story and said Larry Silverstein had been getting some
of his friends asking him if they could get tickets to the club.
“I have to tell them it
sure as hell is not me,” Larry told the Times.
But while colleagues of
Larry Silverstein may have been closer to the M.O. of Runway 69 patrons
– said to be frequented by business men – the clientele at the
former business in Runway 69’s space was a little more volatile. That
business was called The Lemon Tree, and Frank Natale, owner of
Danielle’s restaurant and night club on Austin Street, said he
wondered why all these protestors weren’t standing outside of that
“The protestors should
have been here when there were shootings in the street,” he told the Tribune.
“The Lemon Tree brought in a much worse crowd than Runway 69. There
were fights every weekend,” he said.
Unlike The Lemon Tree,
Runway 69 had no liquor license. New York State law requires adult
dancing establishments to choose between serving alcohol and having
all-nude dancers. If there’s alcohol, the girls have to keep their
So while the patrons at
Runway 69 would have more to look at, they would have less to fight
about – at least that’s the argument made by John Scialpi, VP of
Goldfingers International, which owned the club.
“Guys fight for two reasons,” Scialpi told the Tribune, “Because they are drunk and/or someone looked at their girlfriend. Neither of those things are going to happen at Runway 69.”
After all, economic times
were hard in 1993. Businesses were closing and revenues on Austin Street
were shrinking. To argue the economics angle, Scialpi brought out his
secret weapon: Porn star Jamie Summers.
“This area is starving
for business,” she said. “If the merchants are open-minded, they
might realize the benefits of a new business on Austin Street.”
Scialpi, who posed for the
Tribune flanked by his busty business mates, also played the AIDS
card to ward off his puritanical opposition. The argument: with AIDS on
the rise, exotic dancing is as safe as abstinence, and as steamy as good
“Men aren’t picking up
women and sleeping with them anymore,” said Scialpi, reportedly with a
straight face. “This business gives men the opportunity to see
beautiful women without sleeping with them.”
But Koslowitz just
wasn’t seeing eye-to-g-string with Scialpi, or the business-savvy
She was busy visiting
community organizations to pull together a practical army of anti-strip
joint protestors to form a blockade around Runway 69.
And block, they did.
Around 600 people showed
up for the protests.
Community Board 6 Chairman
Anthony Atlas pushed the paparazzi angle to keep customers outside the
doors. He advocated snapping photos of anyone who chose to go inside.
Schumer chimed in to
remind anyone flirting with the idea of a lap dance, that they were
“Patrons don’t want to
be seen or recognized,” he said, “They are embarrassed and we will
use that as our tool.”
While the battle of the
breasts raged on outside Runway 69, owners of other strip clubs – even
competitors – watched on with sentiments of compassion for the
fledgling nudie joint.
“They have a small
occupancy and lack parking,” said Joe Guarino, spokesman for Naked
City, another strip club. “But I wish them luck.”
Whatever Runway 69’s
chances, the community was winning the battle.
Crowds outside the club
thinned out after the initial charge, but small groups of people were
constantly manning the storefront in what became a war of attrition –
the Forest Hills community simply had more men, so to speak.
Runway 69, faced with sure
“What’s the point of
staying where you’re not wanted?” asked Bruce Lynn, who acted as a
spokesperson for Runway 69. “We’ve got to hand it to the residents
of Forest Hills. This was just like the wild west – when people who
weren’t welcome were run out of town.”
Koslowitz and Lynn were
pictured in the Tribune at a press conference. Lynn’s mouth is
open, the language of concession flowing into a Channel Four microphone,
his eyes fixed on Koslowitz. She doesn’t make eye contact with Lynn,
her face deadpan like a warrior who had seen battle and was now basking
in victory, her head high.
But Koslowitz and Schumer
did not escape unscathed.
One leader in the fight to
close down the club spoke to the Tribune off the record and
accused the two politicians of “grandstanding.”
“They forgot to thank
the people who created the soap box they are standing on,” said the
source. “I don’t care if they get re-elected from this, but they
shouldn’t be using this as a tool to help their careers.”
Runway 69 got off easy.
Silverstein agreed to pay the club $125,000 and forgave $32,000 in back
The club is
now located in Long Island City.