“Save the Vu”: Employees of the Ypsilanti strip club protest in front of the town hall
YPSILANTI, MI – “Live and let live.” “Honk the horn if you’re a stripper.” “Save the Vu.”
These are some of the messages that were stuck on cardboard and white posters and held up by around 15 employees and supporters of the Déjà Vu Showgirls strip club on Friday during a planned protest in front of the Ypsilanti town hall.
The club, which has been closed since last year and linked to the national adult entertainment giant of the same name, has been embroiled in two parallel legal disputes with city officials.
Déjà Vu started it with a lawsuit against Ypsilanti filed in federal court in April alleging the city was slowly considering plans to repair and rebuild after a fire last year, while he also made allegations about the motivations of city officials put forward.
The city shot back with its own lawsuit in a state court in July, accusing the club owners of illegal construction without a building permit. Ypsilanti claims that the club’s already limited ability to operate the city center according to current zoning plans is in jeopardy and is calling on the court to close it permanently.
The club is now trying to focus on its workers who are otherwise not involved in the courtroom.
Read more: Ypsilanti v. Déjà Vu: A timeline of the city’s dueling litigation with the downtown strip club
On November 19th, employees and dancers, then and now, had a simple message: Let’s do our work again in Ypsilanti.
“No. 1 we help people get back to work,” said Edward Otis, Déjà Vu’s floor manager, dressed in a black “Vu” hat and a sign that read, “We want Ypsi to be great too is”.
“It also helps bring money back to the community,” he said, showing a tattoo on his wrist with the name of the club and the area codes for Detroit and Oklahoma City where the company sent him to work during the pandemic.
Meanwhile, some passing cars honked their horns seemingly supportive as they turned into Michigan Avenue in front of the stone facade of the government building.
A protester climbs a tree like a pole and stays parallel to the ground to mimic a routine. Protesters cheered.
“We’re only here to show our support for our homeland club and hope the city sees that we are contributing to the community and not wanting to get in the way,” said Lydia Frisinger, general manager, who rattled off a list of fundraisers and fundraisers that the company hosted.
Some of the déjà vu dancers who held signs on the sidewalk, most of whom refused to give their full names, reported traveling to other cities or across state lines to continue their work during the Ypsilanti Club is closed.
“Sex work feeds families,” read a sign, a refrain that several of the entertainers repeated, comparing their work with any other profession.
“Déjà Vu is a staple food in the city. Waitresses start there. Bartenders start there, ”said Kenzie Jeyne, a native of Ypsilanti who has worked at the club for a decade.
The demonstrators have no intention of entering the town hall, said Frisinger.
From the city officials, the news was simple. “The city is only enforcing the law,” Ypsilanti City Prosecutor John Barr wrote in an email this week after the protest was announced.
The two elected leaders who agreed to speak to MLive / The Ann Arbor News about the lawsuits have been split. Councilor Annie Somerville, who represents Ward 3, where the club is located, previously said she believed the city’s decision to sue the club was a “bad choice,” adding that the zoning violations are out of court could have been settled.
Councilor Steve Wilcoxen, Ward 2, meanwhile, has said the club’s owners must take responsibility for their actions and denies any highlighting of the business.
“It is unfortunate that you cannot work, but that is your employer’s responsibility,” said Wilcoxen of the club’s animators and staff. “To lay your fate on the city is misguided.”
On Friday at the corner of Huron Street and Michigan Avenue, there was no discussion of building permits or city regulations affecting the strip club that has operated in Ypsilanti for over three decades.
Frisinger hopes the meeting has made the club’s staff and dancers more visible.
“We bring more to the community than nudity,” she said.
More from the Ann Arbor News:
“Bring it home”: agricultural pedagogue plans to bring community gardens to the Ypsilanti area park
Ypsilanti student dies after a “medical emergency” during basketball auditions at high school
Eastern Michigan University project to combat racial inequalities in policing