Madison Maronde is a senior at the University of Minnesota, majoring in journalism and minoring in sociology. Madison is finishing up a summer internship with The Reporters Inc. and plans to pursue a career in television news.

When a central Wisconsin church buys a strip club,

Churches Buying Strip Clubs

A Noble Attempt to “Restore” Morality, or a Huge Overstep?

When a central Wisconsin church buys a strip club,

August 2023

BY MADISON MARONDE

Editor’s note: This article contains graphic descriptions of sexual abuse and sexual assault.

Until a few years ago, when I’d drive into Marshfield, Wisconsin from the south of town I’d always see a worn out, red and white neon sign with the words “The Rear End” hoisted atop two skinny old poles. I quickly learned, after moving to Marshfield in 2017, that The Rear End was a tavern and strip club

Marshfield is a central Wisconsin town of about 19,000 people, perhaps best known for being the headquarters of the acclaimed Marshfield Clinic Health System, and home to an abundant farming community. It’s more than 94 percent White, and has no shortage of churches. Last I counted there were 21.

The Rear End had been in business for about 35 years, run by the same family, before it closed in April 2018—something that’d been a long time coming, according to its owner J.D. Koran. He says the decision to ultimately close was “purely financial.”

Koran says he first tried to turn a profit by selling some of the 17 acres the club sat on; then he put the entire property up for sale. “Over time, money became more tight,” Koran tells me, more than five years after he shuttered the club. “We were surviving. The last two years it became more clear it should close.”

Koran also says he was just “ready to be done. I had been born and raised in the bar business, and there are better ways to have a family life.”

A Marshfield, Wisconsin population sign (above) on the outskirts of town welcomes drivers; Downtown Marshfield’s Central Avenue (below) is the site of coffee and antique shops, among other businesses.

 

Describing a typical night during The Rear End’s heyday, Koran says dancers would take to the six- by 15-foot stage one at a time, performing to predominantly classic rock, wearing costumes or lingerie. Some utilized the single pole on the stage during their shows. Ranging in age from 18 to 50, they all would eventually strip down to nothing. No G-strings. No pasties. Completely nude.

Some past customers I talked with say the club patrons were usually always men, and only men. They recall beer being served in cans, not on tap.

“We were the only women in there who weren’t dancers,” remembers Jennifer Bentti, a 30-year-old, married mother of two from Marshfield who says she went to The Rear End twice–once as a dare, once as a first date with her now wife.

Joe Gustafson, a married father of three and a life-long Marshfield resident, says he’d describe the club as “old and outdated but clean.”

Bentti, though, recalls it being dirty and dark. “There was old ‘70s paneling, and not a lot of light,” she says.

The bar, open seven days a week, could legally accommodate 75 people but Koran says it usually welcomed about 25 customers on any given evening. He says his customer based varied from blue collar workers to even judges, and they came from all over Wood County.

Wood County Sheriff’s Department Lt. Scott Goldberg says The Rear End wasn’t a huge problem for law enforcement. “There were a fair amount of calls,” he explains, “There was some disorderly conduct, battery complaints that we investigated but not more calls there than other bars.” He has no recollection of complaints from any of the dancers about patrons and their behavior.

Looking back on it now, perhaps with a touch of nostalgia, Koran describes The Rear End as a place with “lots of socialization.” Many of his customers and regulars “almost became like family,” he says. Some of his employees worked there for decades.

“It was not just about an 18- to 20-year-old seeing boobs for the first time,” Koran explains. “They weren’t there just for naked women, they were there for the companionship.”

Koran officially sold The Rear End to Marshfield’s North Ridge Church for $335,000 in the fall of 2018, months after the booze stopped flowing and the dancers stopped stripping. Full disclosure: My family has been attending North Ridge Church since 2017.

But why would a church, my church, want to buy a strip club? To put it out of business for good? To send some kind of morality message? To “save” its dancers and/or clientele from their “sinful” actions and behaviors? I’ve actually wondered about this for a few years now.

 

North Ridge Church recently expanded its sanctuary and built a new entrance to its main church building, all on its original property.

 

Turns out, North Ridge, an Assemblies of God church of about 600 congregants that’s been in Marshfield for about 80 years, isn’t alone in its strip club-purchasing pursuit. Nearly a dozen religious organizations around the U.S. have bought strip clubs since the late 2000s, transforming the existing buildings into churches, or creating community spaces. From San Diego, California to Anchorage, Alaska, Portland, Oregon to Cincinnati, Ohio, the stories are similar.

In the past five years, the revenue of strip clubs in the U.S. (there are an estimated 4,150 clubs employing nearly 40,000 workers) shrunk by 5 percent, according to industry research reports by IBISWorld. It’s expected to further decline by nearly 2 percent by the end of 2023. Yet it’s still a $7.4 billion dollar industry.

Rich Johnson, owner of Cajun Club, a strip club in Houlton, Wisconsin, says that if there’s a demand that large for something, it will always be supplied.

“Business is going pretty well for us. We’re not going anywhere any time soon,” says Johnson.

Between 2007 and 2022, The Reporters Inc. found 11 instances of churches across the U.S. purchasing buildings that were being used as, or once were, strip clubs. At least one other church bought a strip club in Canada, and we found four additional attempts by churches to purchase clubs that ultimately failed.

One such failure happened in Cross Lanes, West Virginia when the Hurricane Bible Church and Ministries tried to raise about $800,000 to buy the Pink Pony strip club in 2011. The church’s pastor called it “a haven of evil,” but ultimately was never able to purchase the club.

Of the 11 purchased strip clubs we found, all but one, The Hunt Club in Fort Collins, Colorado, were out of business when churches acquired them.

Churches having purchased 11 strip clubs in 15 years can hardly be considered anything but a tiny ripple in American religious waters, but it did pique my interest. When I asked Dr Bernadette Barton, Professor of Sociology and Director of Gender Studies at Morehead State University in Kentucky, for her thoughts, she told me, “A church needs a lot of capital to buy a building, so it is financially unfeasible for most. But, if buying strip club properties became a trend, or a Christian talking point, it could take off.”

Still, as I’ve since come to learn, buying up bars (whether they’re closed already or not), is just one part of a multi-pronged religious effort to keep dancing women out of strip clubs.

Prior to purchasing The Rear End, North Ridge Church Pastor Aimee Tippen had met club owner Koran’s wife, Jill. Tippen used to host what she called “freedom parties,” during which she talked about the dangers of sex trafficking and sold products such as candles, jewelry and bags made by women who had escaped it. The money raised from the sales helped support the women.

“Research supports that any kind of commercialization of sex, or making sex a commodity, makes women more vulnerable to being sex trafficked,” Tippen says, referencing the National Human Trafficking Hotline. It explains that victims of sex trafficking are “frequently recruited to work in strip clubs across the United States.”

North Ridge Church has also had missionaries come and speak about sex trafficking and has held fundraisers for its victims at these events, hosted at Marshfield residents’ homes two to three times a month. Tippen says Jill Koran and her mother would attend. “We believe no human should be trafficked, abused, or exploited because they are God’s beloved creations,” Tippen says. North Ridge Church also partners with a group called Project Rescue to bring hope to survivors of sexual exploitation.

After attending several of her talks, Tippen remembers, “They (Jill Koran and her mother) interrupted the program that I was presenting and asked if I would buy the strip club, tear it down, and build something great. And I was like ‘what?’”

 

Co-lead Pastor Aimee Tippen of North Ridge Church (above), and her husband, Co-Lead Pastor Preston Tippen (below)

 

Prior to that proposal, both Pastor Tippen and her co-pastor, her husband Preston, say they’d never even considered buying the strip club, or any strip club for that matter. The Tippens have been members of North Ridge Church since 2007 and began leading it in 2016.

At first they thought, “No that’s crazy,” recalls Pastor Preston. “But then we were like, ‘Wait a minute, we need more space (for the church), so this could be a win-win.’ And so I started meeting with the owner.” The club, located on Marshfield’s south side, was about a five mile drive from the church, on the city’s north side.

According to Pastor Preston, part of North Ridge Church’s mission is “restoration.” He explains, “The Bible shares the story of creation as one of a Creator God who has been seeking to restore all his creations back to His original design and plan. We see the purchase and restoration of the south side property—to a place that builds families up instead of tearing them apart—as a small part of the restoration of all creation.”

Koran also talked to the owner of a strip club in Iowa who was interested in buying The Rear End. “I’m not anti-strip club, I’m anti-losing money,” he says. But when he and the Tippens got together to discuss the purchase, “it was just the best case scenario at the time. I bet you a lot of club owners that gave me hell for selling to a church, I bet they wish they were in my position.”

While the Tippens had never been to a “show” at The Rear End, other church members had been “ministering” to club workers (primarily dancers) for years through a program they called “Sweet Treats.”

“It was mostly just a ministry of presence,” says Liz Gosse, a church member who used to volunteer with Sweet Treats. “We wanted to let them know that they’re not forgotten, that they’re cared for, that they’re loved. That we’re not afraid, for lack of a better term, of the stigma that’s attached with them. We see them, we hear them, we want to support them however possible.”

A stigma, Gosse says, of being “objectified” in a “trashy profession.” Gosse believes this viewpoint can especially be held “among the faith community at times.” It’s something that she says she doesn’t agree with, because she understands dancers are “often times seen as objects and not people with real lives and real stories and real reasons behind the work that they do.”

Koran says that although he went out of his way to make sure The Rear End was a safe place to work, his dancers also appreciated the attention and concern they received from the Sweet Treats members. “Stripping is just a very hard life,” Koran says. “Obviously they can get affection when they’re dancing and stuff but it’s not real.”

He continues, “A lot of them are single moms just trying to do what they can do. I think that’s why it was such a good thing. They (North Ridge Church members) didn’t look down upon them.”

 

Owner of The Rear End, J.D. Koran, chats with Pastor Preston Tippen of North Ridge Church during a 2018 Wisconsin news report by WSAW-TV.

 

At the same time, Koran says most all of The Rear End’s dancers were freelancers, booked for a week at a time, and most lived elsewhere in Wisconsin or out of state. (The Reporters Inc. has been unable to locate any of The Rear End’s former dancers for comment for this story.) Koran initially had some concerns about church members wanting to pull dancers away from their profession and, in turn, his club and his business.

Pastor Aimee explains the ministering like this: “We were building relationships so, if they decided to leave, if they chose that they wanted a different profession, we would help them so that they had a choice. We even helped one woman get a GED.”

However, Strippers United, a group that describes itself as “ a diverse and inclusive community of empowered strippers who share an uncompromised vision for our rights, our vital role in society and our dignity as professionals,” vehemently disagrees. According to two dancers with Strippers United who perform under the names NatsHoney and Teddy B., being ministered to by a religious organization is “demeaning instead of supportive. Usually, the angle is to get us to stop performing.”

In a joint statement they provided me, they wrote, “If we have learned anything over the last few years, everyone’s actions towards our industry has an effect on us, the workers. Ministers with gifts of support and encouraging words may be appreciated by a handful of performers on a shift. However, if they purchase strip clubs/strip bars under the guise of removing the place of business as a place of employment for us, we will ultimately have less options to work in within a certain radius.”

Johnson, the owner of Cajun Club, doesn’t care if people minister to his dancers, and he says they enjoy it. “If they want to talk to people and give them a stupid book or cookie that’s fine,” Johnson says. “One lady comes in every month or so, and brings her crap with her, she has to pay to get in.”

At The Rear End, Gosse and the other Sweet Treats volunteers would also bring in treats, like homemade cupcakes, when they talked to The Rear End staff (thus the name of the group). They also helped remodel the club’s dressing room.

“It was disgusting,” Pastor Aimee says, “and some of the ministry ladies were like, ‘no one should get ready in a place like this, can we help make this nicer?’”

Pastor Preston adds, “We made it more dignified.”

The Rear End shut down on April 2, 2018, a day after Easter Sunday, and Gosse found out through a message one of the dancers sent her. “I was like, ‘yeah, right…OK, I see what day it is. Nice try, whatever,’” she says, thinking it was a late April Fool’s Day joke.

But after learning the news was true, “I thought that was so cool, like the day of new life,” she explains, referring to the belief of Jesus resurrecting from the dead on Easter. “The significance of that day was not lost on me. I thought, ‘God you’re doing good stuff here.’”

 

The Rear End shares the news of its doors closing for good in the spring of 2018.

 

“I understand that they would want to get rid of anything like that in town,” says Jennifer Bentti, the Marshfield resident who visited The Rear End. “It makes sense that they would snatch it up and try to flip it around and make it into something morally better.”

In order to pay for the purchase of the club, the church raised $265,000 from 184 congregants for a down payment—in just one Sunday of donations. Pastor Preston says support for the project was overwhelming, calling the donations “extreme generosity.”

It was “another indicator to us that alright, God kinda wants us to do this,” Pastor Preston explains. To complete the purchase, the church took out a loan for the remaining $70,000 needed, even as more congregant donations came in. They’ve since paid it back in its entirety.

A few months before the purchase became final, about 65 church members gathered together to clean up the property around the strip club, removing trash and other debris, while Koran and a friend came with equipment to tear the building down.

“It was also pretty symbolic of ending a time period where women were degraded there,” Pastor Preston says.

At the time of demolition, the church didn’t have specific plans for the space. Pastor Preston says the church community considered relocating to the site of the former club or creating a neighborhood space, such as a park with pavilions.

 

“It was probably one of the coolest things I’ve got to experience,” says J.D. Koran, the former owner of The Rear End, about the day of its demolition in 2018. “There was no attitudes, there was no nothin’. We went to work that day and it was one of the most amazing things I’d been a part of.”

 

As an attending member of North Ridge Church at the time, I struggled with the mere idea of the church buying a strip club. Although I’d never been to a strip club (I was only 16 at the time), I wondered whether the purchase was more of an attempt to “slut shame” the dancers; if the church couldn’t “minister” them out of their profession, then was removing the business a way of controlling the dancers? I was bothered with the idea that a church was spending its money on this when Marshfield already had parks, including the rather new Wenzel Family Plaza community space.

I also thought, “Couldn’t it be empowering for women to dance/strip—and isn’t it their choice to do so, without interference from people who presume to know what’s best, or better for them?”

Yet according to the NatsHoney and Teddy B. from Strippers United, “Empowering is not our preferred word to describe our work. We like folks to look into why they would use that particular word to apply to our job. Is the ride operator at Disneyland an empowered employee, or simply an employee seeking compensation for their services rendered?”

Dr. Bernadette Barton, the Director of Gender Studies at Morehead State University, says that while some feminists see stripping as an individual choice that women have the right to make, others argue that working in the sex industry negatively affects the image of all women.

“On an institutional level, strip bars do prop up patriarchy,” Barton says. “That’s like the part of the apparatus of patriarchy, to keep women in sexual service to men. On an individual level I also support a women finding her way in the world, however is best for her. And only she knows, only she gets to pick. Do I think she’s anti-feminist for doing that? No. I think anybody would do what they had to do to get by.”

Barton wrote two books on the subject of strip clubs and their dancers: Stripped: Inside the Lives of Exotic Dancers and Stripped: More Stories from Exotic Dancers.

“I think purity culture and raunch culture are two sides of the same coin, both trying to control women’s bodies.” Barton says, “They (the church) see themselves as helping women who are in desperate straits.”

 

Sociology Professor Bernadette Barton (above) is the author of the recently revised book, Stripped: More Stories From Exotic Dancers (below). 

 

Barton believes many strip club dancers may be using drugs, and many of their critics think the only way to help them overcome their addictions is to get them out of the clubs. Barton thinks churches are “effective to some degree” in ministering to strippers, but they can be too focused on sharing their religion.

“And that is problematic. But if it’s between crystal meth and your path out, it’s good that they exist,” Barton says.

“Most women who enter stripping plan to do it for a limited time to meet some specific financial needs,” Barton continues. “Some end up only doing it a night or two because they don’t like it. Those who stay often end up dancing longer than they originally imagined for a number of reasons—easy money, new financial expectations, the difficulty finding an equally well-paying job, among others.”

NatsHoney and Teddy B. from Strippers United, who have been working at strip clubs for nine and 20 years respectively, say they make $200 to $500 a day between their wages and tips.

When it comes to churches obtaining strip clubs, Barton doesn’t believe the effort is entirely motivated by a need to help women. Just as she sees patriarchy in strip clubs, she sees it in religious institutions as well. “It’s complicated but I would say the institutional underpinnings of their (churches’) ideology is patriarchal, and conservative and fundamentalist often, and those are ideologies that see women as subordinate to men,” Barton says.

Pastors Aimee and Preston Tippen, however, disagree, saying the patriarchy argument should be solely placed against the strip club side. “Who owns the strip clubs? Because it’s not women,” Pastor Preston says. “If we really want to get down to it, it’s the patriarchy that is owning and putting women in those places.”

Regardless, Barton ultimately just thinks it’s “weird” for churches to be buying strip clubs that eventually put dancers out of jobs.

“First off, we didn’t put women out of jobs,” reiterates Pastor Aimee, pointing out that Koran was closing The Rear End whether North Ridge Church bought it or not.

Still, at the time of The Rear End purchase, church members from North Ridge’s Sweet Treats program said they did plan to stay in touch with the club’s dancers, work to find new employment for those who were interested, and to support the women in whatever ways they might need.

Today, Gosse says none of the dancers actually asked for assistance pursuing employment and that she’s lost track of most of them because, as Koran explained, they weren’t living in the Marshfield area in the first place.

In Lafayette, Indiana, Jeff Mikels, the former pastor of Lafayette Community Church, readily admits that he purchased Filly’s Gentlemen Club in 2018 to “save” the women.

“After we bought the strip club, and we walked through the building, we found a number of secret rooms—rooms behind secret doors—that kind of stuff. We had no idea what was going on in that environment but someone was wanting it kept secret,” Mikels explains.

He believes the strippers at Filly’s were “sexually victimized” because “however they ended up there, they found it incredibly difficult to get out.”

He says those who ministered to the dancers there told him, “The things that were going on there were exploitative. None of them (the dancers) could even verbalize without breaking into tears.”

At the same time, Mikels admits he has no hard evidence or witnesses of illegal activities at Filly’s, and never reported his concerns about the state of the workers to police.

Three years after buying the club and putting it out of business, Mikels and his church sold it to a company that turned it into public storage units. He says the building wasn’t in good enough shape to be turned into a church, and his church also lacked funding.

Linda Dunegan bought the Fantasies on 5th strip club in Anchorage, Alaska in 2020, and turned it into Open Door Baptist Church. Dunegan, a devout Christian, says her mother was once a stripper. Because of those reasons, among others, she now wants to buy three more strip clubs in Alaska and transform them into “beacons of light” for the community.

“I looked at the first strip pole, I looked up and down,” Dunegan explains, describing what she felt when she walked into the club for the first time. “I was grieved for all the women who had worked there. I slowly walked to the second strip pole. I thought about all the men who came to this place. I was not happy.”

 

Linda Dunegan is on a mission to put strip clubs out of business in Alaska.

 

Leaders of other churches, such as Hope Church in Greenville, South Carolina, insist they’re simply buying the old strip clubs for the space. In an October 2022 interview, Pastor Rich Butler said his church had been searching to expand more than a year before he heard that former strip club Bucks Racks and Ribs was available for rent.

“So, after multiple hunts and failed attempts and near misses, and all that kind of thing, we heard that this building was going up for lease, and we weren’t interested in leasing it,” Butler told WSPA news. “But we reached out to the owners and asked if they would be interested in selling it. They said yes.”

That’s something that Dr. Jeanne Hallgren Kilde, the director of religious studies at the University of Minnesota, doesn’t find unusual.

“I wouldn’t call it strange in terms of the history of property,” Kilde says. She’s claims it’s a stereotype that churches have to look a certain way, or be developed in a certain style—for example, with steeples and stained glass. “Religious organizations have been very utilitarian about the types of spaces they buy or move into. It’s most often the practicality that guides.”

At the same time, Kilde agrees that the churches that buy strip clubs, no matter what their denomination, feel it’s their mission to go out in the world and bring people to God.

“It’s Evangelicals that are more likely, particularly now, to be searching for ways to move their churches into places where strip clubs may be—more impoverished areas, ” Kilde explains. She says they’re wanting to go into places that are perceived as needing help. “Evangelical people view this as help from Jesus.”

Beulah Strip Church is a nonprofit organization based in Chicago. According to the home page of its website, “Jesus loves strippers” and “We bring God’s love to women working in the adult entertainment industry.” Beulah leaders speak at churches or events about the need to help strip club dancers find another path.

According to Corinne Santanelli, a former strip club dancer who founded Beulah eight years ago, the group tells dancers, “You are loved and accepted and we’re here for you. The ultimate goal is that they would come to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ who died for them. That can take six months, it can take six years, but we’re in it for the long haul.”

She continues, “If the strippers aren’t gonna come to the church, then we’re gonna bring the church to them. They are worthy of that, too. Jesus came for everyone.”

 

Corinne Santanelli, founder of Beulah Strip Church and a former strip club dancer

 

Santanelli says she began stripping when she was 19. She was a high school dropout and relied on stripping as an income. “I was in the industry for 10 years. I wasn’t living at home, and just had a lot of brokenness because of how I grew up, so I started working at a strip club,” she explains.

“I went through a lot being in the industry,” she continues. “My anxiety heightened, and just dealing with a lot of uncertainty in life, loss of dreams and hopes because at this age in my life I had no education.”

Beulah leaders claim that as much as 90 percent of women in the sex industry have been sexually abused as children and, compared to the general population, women in the sex industry experience higher rates of substance abuse, rape and violent assault, STDs and STIs, domestic violence, depression, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

They also cite a small 1998 survey of women called Stripclubs According to Strippers: Exposing Workplace Sexual Violence in which 100 percent of the 18 strip club workers surveyed reported being verbally, physically and sexually abused in the club. The violence included attempted vaginal penetration, attempted rape, and rape.

“Everyone experiences assault and abuse and harassment working in the strip clubs,” Professor Barton says. “I didn’t interview anyone who hadn’t. Not every moment, not every day, not every customer, but I don’t think you could work a month without having one really bad thing happen—bad like someone’s gonna try to stick a finger in you or cum on your leg or call you ‘a nasty cunt’ for no reason.”

Jayme Davis is part of another group, Lace Warriors, that began ministering to dancers in Texas and Mexico this past year. The group says that it serves, teaches and equips “women across the world who share a heart and calling to reach those who work in the legal sex industry.”

Davis says the first time she went to a strip club, she told a performer, “Jesus loves you” and the woman responded with “a cuss word. She said ‘F-U-C-K! Jesus loves me?’” Davis says she took that reaction to mean Lace Warriors was going to make a meaningful impact.

She says that strip clubs are “dark places” and that her group prays outside them before they go in tominister, usually about once a month. Davis says she can actually feel the darkness lift when the ministers of Lace Warriors arrive.

Davis believes the dancers are “lost,” and that the strip clubs encourage “lust.”

She explains, “After stripping are they going to feel amazing or are they going to feel lustful?” She says she’s seen lust “breaking up marriages and breaking up families. It’s really sad and that’s not how God created it.”

But Joe Gustafson, the Marshfield resident who’s been to The Rear End, calls the churches’ interventions “disturbing” and takes issue with the idea that strip club dancers are “degenerates in need of help.”

Gustafson, who says he was religious for about 40 years, now believes evangelical churches minister to strip clubs because they have “a perception of rightness,” and sometimes “can’t allow people to exist alongside of them” who have different beliefs.

 

Joe Gustafson, a life-long resident of Marshfield, Wisconsin, says The Rear End Tavern and Strip Club was his “first strip club experience.”

 

He also thinks ministering to strippers could be “driven from suppressed sexuality within the church in general. And guilt of having desires that do not comply with evangelical decisions and a rightness of worldview.”

At the same time, Gustafson supports the idea of businesses and business owners—even nonprofits like churches—being able to sell to, and buy from, whomever they’d like, regardless of the reasons.

According to a Wisconsin State Legislature statute, section 187.06, churches “may take title to property.” However, the property must be managed, and follow the same rules as the church, in terms of how it’s used.

Five years after North Ridge Church purchased The Rear End, the congregation has replaced its tattered old neon sign with two new ones, at each end of the property. They both say “North Ridge Church of Marshfield Welcomes You!”

Today, the church uses the site for occasional church gatherings like festivals and fundraisers. Otherwise it sits empty. Nothing new has been built there. North Ridge hasn’t physically moved its church or expanded to the location. And that begs the question, was the amount of money spent to obtain the property worth it?

According to Pastor Preston, the church held a meeting recently to discuss adding a walking path and a pond to the property—which is not yet open for public use.

“What we’re wanting to do is restore the property to what it once was. That used to be a place where people went to be with their families,” Pastor Preston explains, referring to a time when the site used to be a drive-in movie theater decades ago. “When it became a strip club, that was where you went to get away from families. And so we’re restoring it back.”

 

North Ridge Church kept the poles on which The Rear End’s old sign once sat (above) but put up a generic new Marshfield billboard atop them. Today, the 17-acre property sits mostly empty except when the church holds events like summer potlucks (below).

 

No new strip clubs have opened in Marshfield since The Rear End’s demise. That’s mainly because there’s a city ordinance banning nude dancing in bars. The Rear End only became part of Marshfield when the city annexed the land from the town of Cameron in 2015, on which The Rear End was located.

But that doesn’t mean that locals can’t find a strip club if they’re truly interested. There are at least five clubs within a 60-mile radius of Marshfield.

“There’s other clubs,” Koran says, referring to the others outside of Marshfield, “Well, they’re more of a ‘gentleman’s club’, and more upscale. We were just, uh, we were a titty bar, we were a strip club, we were nothing fancy. It’s Marshfield, this is a blue collar town, always will be.”

As for the Sweet Treats program, Gosse says it now ministers to dancers at strip clubs in the towns of Wausau and Wisconsin Rapids, both about a 50-minute drive from Marshfield.

“When we say that they need extra love, it is not out of a place of pity,” Gosse says. “They’ve got a tough job that’s a joke to a lot of people and we want to support them however possible.”

Today, now that I’m older, I no longer have major qualms about The Rear End closing, or about the way North Ridge Church went about its purchase. If anything, I’m pleasantly surprised learning the full story. But I’ll continue to question the fervent efforts by some religious groups to seek out dancers and “make them feel loved.”

I’m unsettled that none of the groups I talked with focused on ministering to the customers who go to strip clubs (a.k.a. men), those who ultimately keep the dancers employed. Why are their efforts concentrated solely on helping and reforming the women?

When I pass by what North Ridge Church now calls “the southside property,” I can’t help but think about the many other ways the $335,000 that it cost the church and its congregants to buy the club could have been spent. I also try and imagine what it truly must have been like at The Rear End, or what it’s like at any strip club for that matter.

And then, I think about the time someone called the church and asked for the The Rear End’s old dancing pole.

Turns out J.D. Koran still has it, along with other sentimental memorabilia from the club. It’s in his garage.

 

Madison Maronde can be reached at

 

COMMENTS

One person commented on "Churches Buying Strip Clubs"
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  • Rodney Steckler says:

    Very interesting subject; as is your approach. Thank you!

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