BANGOR, Maine — The owner of Bangor’s only exotic entertainment business will have her chance this week to convince city councilors that they should relax municipal ordinances and allow alcohol consumption and nude dancing at the same time and place.
Diane Cormier, owner and operator of Diva’s Gentlemen’s Club on Harlow Street, petitioned the Bangor council last month to reconsider the ordinances that govern her business. The city’s existing adult entertainment policy, adopted in May 1998, allows nudity or alcoholic beverages, but not both. Diva’s has been serving alcohol and requiring dancers to wear bikini tops and bottoms or G-strings and pasties, a combination Cormier said is hurting her business.
Councilor Pat Blanchette requested that Cormier at least have a formal hearing to make her case. That hearing has been set for 5 p.m. Wednesday, June 9, before the council’s business and economic development committee.
While Blanchette extended the opportunity to Cormier, Blanchette is not a voting member of that committee. The voting members of the business and economic development committee are chairman Cary Weston, Geoff Gratwick and David Nealley, who ultimately will decide whether the matter goes to the full council. In most controversial cases, the issue does go before all nine councilors, but that is not a requirement.
City Code Enforcement Officer Dan Wellington, who prepared a memo for councilors that examines existing ordinances both in Bangor and other parts of the state, did not offer a recommendation for potential changes. Instead, he left the council to offer its direction.
Wellington did say that if the city wanted to consider changes, it would need to address several issues, including whether businesses like Diva’s would be subjected to additional licensing requirements, whether zoning law would need to be amended and whether neighbors would have reasonable rights to setbacks.
Cormier said she has been a good businesswoman in Bangor. Her establishment has few problems, she insisted, but has been hurt by the city’s restrictive ordinances.
Council Chairman Richard Stone has made it no secret that he is opposed to making any concessions for Diva’s. Councilor Gerry Palmer recently offered his opinion that he was comfortable with existing ordinances and doesn’t see a need for change. Other councilors have been less vocal.
Cormier, however, said it’s not up to the council to decide what people should or should not be allowed to do or to force moral principles on the public.
“If you don’t want to see it, don’t go in, but don’t tell people what they may or may not view,” she said.
The Diva’s owner suggested that Bangor’s ordinances should be more closely modeled after Portland’s ordinances. However, Portland is almost identical to Bangor with one exception. Platinum Plus, a strip club in Portland, was established before that city’s ordinances were passed, which means the club was grandfathered in.
Diva’s has a lengthy and controversial history in Bangor.
The club opened at 65 State St. in the late 1990s. Cormier, formerly Diane Hilyard, previously owned and operated Body Magic in Ellsworth, a business that offered full body massage and nude dancing.
Bangor created its ordinances to deal specifically with Diva’s, and Cormier has been challenging the city ever since, in and out of courtrooms. Councilors, buoyed by significant public pressure, have always kept her from getting what she ultimately wants: a strip club that can serve patrons alcohol.
In December 2008, Diva’s was forced to move from its longtime home at 65 State St. when the building’s owner sold the property. Cormier found a new home on Harlow Street near the Margaret Chase Smith Federal Building in a building that also houses Diversified Ink, a tattoo parlor.
Wednesday’s meeting is open to the public and, if the recent statewide debate about whether women should be free to march topless in the streets is any indication, opinions about Diva’s are likely to be divergent.