Prospective new Castaway owners still face resistance

  • Longtime owner of the Castaway Lounge Demetrious “Jimmy” Konstantopoulos looks on as a resident expresses their concerns over the proposed variance that could finalize the sale of the strip club to the two Boston businessmen, not pictured.  Recorder Staff/Joshua Solomon—

  • Attorney Tom Lesser speaks on behalf of  the two Boston businessmen attempting to buy the Castaway Lounge. As the Conway lawyer speaks, neighbor to the strip club Joe Zewinski motions to the Selectboard that Lesser has been speaking for too long. Recorder Staff/Joshua Solomon—

  • The Whately Selectboard mulls a variance for the Castaway Lounge at a hearing Wednesday night. Recorder Staff/Joshua Solomon—

  • The Whately Selectboard heard public comment on a variance regarding the potential sale of the Castaway Lounge at a Wednesday night meeting. Recorder Staff/Joshua Solomon—

Staff Writer
Published: 7/25/2018 11:41:50 PM

WHATELY — There’s no tiptoeing around this: There’s been a lot of conversation at the five public hearings regarding the buying of the strip club known as the “Whately Ballet” and almost all of the public comment has been in opposition.

While the hopeful buyers of Castaway Lounge have tried to make provisions and work with the neighbors, they have encountered new issues at each meeting. This is what, in part, led to tempers flaring to the highest degree so far in the public discussions dating back to the end of May on the property still owned by Demetrious “Jimmy” Konstantopoulos.

Wednesday night’s hour-and-a-half debate centered around security and the buyer’s plan around it. The overall objective of the meeting was for the Selectboard to make a decision on granting a variance to a rule that has been not enforced for, presumably, decades: having a security officer present at the strip club at all hours of operation.

No decision was made on this variance, which stands as likely the final hurdle before the sale of the property now that the new owners have been granted the proper alcohol and entertainment licenses by the board. The conversation will be picked up in two weeks, again, at a hearing on August 8 at 6 p.m.

Likely in a week, a copy of some version of Selectboard Chairman Jonathan Edwards’ thoughts on adjustments to the current proposed security plan will become public, per the request of many of the two dozen in attendance, so people can be educated on parts of the security plans of the private business.

Two points of great contention Wednesday night were the question of the security officer and town access to cameras inside the building.

Security officer

The prospective buyers, as has been discussed in prior meetings, intended to hire a former police chief, or of that ilk, and have that person run their security; currently, there is no security at the lounge, according to its chief.

Residents and Selectboard members Edwards and Joyce Palmer-Fortune objected to this plan. Palmer-Fortune suggested the person be employed by the town and not the strip club owners. One resident described it as a situation of the “fox watching the hen house,” to the nodding agreement of many there. The town’s counsel countered, saying the town could not legally be the one to directly employ this person.

Some residents went back to the idea that the strip club should hire a private detail through the police department at all hours of its operation to comply with the current bylaw, and therefore not need a variance. The buyers, as they have in the past, said this would make it near impossible for them to run a successful business. Their lawyer, Conway resident Tom Lesser, suggested there could be legal action taken if the variance is not approved.

This conversation elicited strong response from the group gathered on a rainy day in the Whately Town Offices.

“I’m trying to sit here and think of a business that has a detail every hour it’s open?” prospective buyer, Boston businessman Julius Sokol said. “A prison?”

In response, a few residents yelled out that this is exactly what they want: oversight at all times.

Sokol went on to say that despite people’s objections to the business, “We’re talking about people’s lives and livelihood. You may not agree, but that’s OK.”

He cited the issues people have had over the past meetings, like sound coming from the club, accidents at the intersection, and, “Now the last thing the town has to hang on to is this variance, which is completely unrealistic. Who’s operating a business like that?”

Neighbor Joe Zewinski — who has attended every meeting and has met with Sokol and his business partner Nicholas Spagnola over building a wall to block sound and sight — interjected with his disagreements to what was being said.

Spagnola, who posted on Instagram and Twitter this week three redesigns for a logo for Castaway Lounge, said, between comments, “We agreed to pay for your wall,” to which Zewinski replied back, “Oh, you’re going to hang your hat on that.” Edwards later asked for the crowd to simmer down and, if not, he’ll just end the meeting.

Earlier in the meeting, Zewinski pleaded to the board to make a vote on this day. “We’ve beaten this thing to death. It’s time to take the vote.” Other residents, who also opposed the variance and club in general, wanted to continue the hearing and the overall process.

Cameras inside

Some residents interpreted a statement made by Lesser during the meeting as the footage inside would be available readily to the town for review. When Lesser said that he mispoke and that, in fact, the video would only be available upon judicial review or a specific request by the police chief, a loud “Oh!” came out in response from those around him.

Residents expressed concern over illicit activity at Castaway, basing some of their facts on Yelp and other online reviews of the establishment of 43 years. People pointed to lap dances happening at the strip club as a reason for better policing over what they claimed to be an illegal activity. Lap dances technically are not illegal in Massachusetts as long as there is no touching going on.

The buyers objected to the footage being made publicly available because of privacy concerns. Edwards eventually recommended only the police chief be able to view it and that it not be made subject to public records request. This point, Edwards repeatedly stated, was a sticking point for him on the overall matter.

“I’m throwing a middle ground here that I don’t get why were getting pushback to,” he said.

The buyers and their associates suggested it was not a good business move and could lead to a lawsuit for violating the privacy of their employees.

Residents asked for police to make regular checks at the strip club to make sure there is not illicit activity happening there.

“Again, what business has police coming in any time they wish?” Sokol said, to which a resounding, “every single business,” was said by the residents in contention with the hopeful businessman.

You can reach Joshua Solomon at:

jsolomon@recorder.com

413-772-0261, ext. 264




Greenfield Recorder

14 Hope Street
Greenfield, MA 01302-1367
Phone: (413) 772-0261
Fax: (413) 772-2906

 

Copyright © 2020 by Newspapers of Massachusetts, Inc.
Terms & Conditions - Privacy Policy