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UNALASKA - A strip club has opened in the heart of a heavily Native neighborhood in the Aleutian Islands town of Unalaska despite protests that it is harmful to the community.
Mermaids opened for business at 5 p.m. Friday, just as owner Kostas Manolakakis promised.
Inside, three male customers drew the attention of the dozen young women working at the club. The women wore outfits that ranged from a star-spangled sequined bikini top and tap pants to a pink negligee.
Outside, members of the Qawalangin tribe and other concerned citizens quietly protested from across the street, signs reading "Not in our village" and "Respect our culture" held aloft. The Qawalangin Senior Center also sent a busload of protesters.
"The thought of having such a type of business in Unalaska let alone its location," said Janice Lekanoff, president of the tribe, as she slowly shook her head. "My dad said he cannot believe they are putting a place like this next to our church."
The historic Holy Assumption Cathedral of the Russian Orthodox faith stands one half block from the new club. The Qawalangin tribe's headquarters are right across the street.
"I was born and raised here," said tribal member Brenda Tellman. "I'm sad it's in our village, by our church and tribe, not far from our schools. I see it from my backyard."
Manolakakis tried to put the club at two other locations in the fishing community about 600 miles southwest of Kodiak, but neighbors' concerns stopped plans.
Manolakakis settled on a battered gray building that was once home to a restaurant where he once cooked. The back of the main room that once housed a sushi bar now serves up soft drinks. The salad bar has been replaced by a low stage, backed by beveled mirror panels. A brass pole runs down the center of the small stage area. A room to the side is reserved for private dances.
The club, which serves no alcohol, seats nearly 70 people.
Unalaska has just more than 4,000 year-round residents - not enough to keep the dozen strippers gainfully employed. But the club hopes to attract the often-cash-rich fishermen who work in the busy port.
Police were called to the club the first two nights after it opened. The first night one man was arrested for allegedly challenging another man to a fight. The next night police responded to a report that one of the window coverings had been removed and pedestrians could see the seminude dancers. Management quickly re-covered the window.