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Jan. 16, 2009

Brothel owner adapts with own 'stimulus' package



SARCOBATUS FLATS -- Business has been dying on the vine on rural Highway 95 in Nye and Esmeralda counties, where houses of prostitution have been among the only businesses for long stretches of desolate road.

The Cottontail Ranch, Esmeralda County's only brothel in Lida Junction, 15 miles south of Goldfield, closed its doors in 2004 and hasn't reopened.

Angel's Ladies Brothel, just north of Beatty, followed suit in October 2007. A business that wasn't sexually oriented, the Fort Amargosa convenience store, restaurant and gas station, closed its doors in Lathrop Wells that same month.

That leaves the Shady Lady Ranch, 20 miles north of Beatty, and the Cherry Patch 2 in Lathrop Wells as the only brothels with red blinking lights beckoning travelers along 300 miles of Highway 95 from Las Vegas to Mina that was formerly lined with them on a map of "Nevada's pleasure points."

The recession has only made things worse.

Last summer George Flint, director of the Nevada Brothel Owners Association, said revenue for 25 businesses in his organization dropped as much as 45 percent. Houses of prostitution in rural areas of Northern Nevada reportedly get as much as 60 percent of their business from truckers, according to the story published in Newsweek, but high diesel prices over the summer cut into truckers profits, limiting their discretionary spending.

Shady Lady Ranch owner Bobbi Davis worked over the years to stay in business with a brothel in a manufactured home painted bright yellow.

Five years ago she persuaded the Nye County Licensing and Liquor Board to amend the county ordinance, carving out a separate license fee for brothels with six to 10 girls. Previously brothel owners paid one fee for five girls or less and a higher fee for anywhere from six to 25 prostitutes.

In July 2007 she was part of a lawsuit that overturned a ban on brothel advertising. U.S. District Judge James Mahan said the state statute about brothel advertising was overly broad and unconstitutional.

After the ruling, Davis said big houses of prostitution made all the money, while small mom and pop operations were "dying on the vine."

Last summer Davis started giving out $50 gas cards to patrons who spent $300 at her brothel, in part to compensate customers for the drive out from places like Las Vegas, 130 miles away, when gas prices rose above $4 per gallon.

"We found out the gas cards that were given away were only good in the West and not in the Midwest or the East. A lot of our customers couldn't use them because they were from there so they had to use them before they left Nevada," Davis said.

Davis estimated she gave away about $2,000 worth of gas cards, which would equate to about 40 "parties" with the girls. She said about 60 percent of her customers come from at least one state away from Nevada.

Then gas prices dropped below $2 per gallon in the cities, reducing the incentive.

Now she's devised a plan to give away a $50 prepaid Discover gift card to customers who spend $300, the price posted on her parlor wall for one hour with a lady at the Shady Lady Ranch. That's an anomaly in the business. Usually customers at Nevada brothels negotiate a price with prostitutes in private in their rooms.

Davis said she's had some customers since a story about the latest promotion ran in the Las Vegas Review-Journal last Friday.

The problem is not just attracting customers, but sometimes attracting girls to come out to the remote area, Davis said.

"A lot of them can't get here because of getting the plane ticket and the economy being bad. They're wanting to come because they don't have a job and then they don't have the money to get here," Davis said.

Davis said she's unable to pay for their plane fare out of concern over violating the Mann Act, a 1910 law which forbids the transportation of females for immoral purposes.

"Once they get here I can send the money back," she said of the prostitutes.

Davis said she'll have three working girls by the end of the week.

The brothel owner is also building a bungalow called the Peacock Cottage for overnight stays. The brothel sits in a valley with the backdrop of ocher-colored mountains, a quiet getaway for a big city traveler.

"It's a little over 700 square feet. All the phases are done. It's going to be quite nice. Each room itself will have its own Jacuzzi, it's own shower. Hopefully if the economy turns around there will be a private pool for it," Davis said. "We plan on using it for an overflow if we can because we only have three rooms in the brothel itself that we use and we only have one Jacuzzi room."

Unlike a hotel built onto Sheri's Ranch in Pahrump, which is entirely separate from the brothel, Davis plans to use the Peacock Cottage as part of the brothel, a VIP room where customers can take one of the working girls.

Davis said the building will sit on posts, like homes in Southern Louisiana. She said it will be rustic inside with "a little bit of a bayou, western theme."

It's unknown if other country brothels once common to Highway 95 will reopen. Former owner Mack Moore has applied to reopen Angel's Ladies Brothel.

The property owner who bought Lida Junction, the former site of the Cottontail Ranch, doesn't want a brothel on it, Davis said.

Some of the ranches played a part in Nevada folklore.

The Cottontail Ranch was reportedly where billionaire recluse Howard Hughes flew in for trysts with a prostitute. Former madam Beverly Harrell ran for the Nevada Assembly in 1974 and published a book called "An Orderly House."

Bobbie's Buckeye Bar is a pink house on the east end of Tonopah on Highway 6 that ceased being a brothel in the early 1990s.

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