Town of Bristol residents upset and frightened by a series of shootings outside a rural Dane County strip club said Tuesday they’ve had enough, but the owners argued the recent problems are being caused by an “unwanted,” out-of-town group of patrons.
About 40 people gathered at the Bristol Town Hall for a special meeting to address a series of shots fired incidents that happened within a little more than a week outside of the Bristol Club. The business, which is east of DeForest and north of Sun Prairie, voluntarily shut down Sunday after the latest shooting.
The meeting was a question-and-answer session between town residents, the Dane County Sheriff’s Office and Club Bristol owners and employees. It also acted as a legal discussion on where the situation goes next, including whether and how to revoke the strip club’s alcohol and adult entertainment licenses.
“I think it’s frankly — if I can categorize the comments of many citizens — it’s more of a cancer in the community than it is a regular business,” Dennis Gammon said of the strip club. “I understand there’s livelihood being derived from it, but I for one would prefer not to have the business in the community.”
The owners and employees of Club Bristol, which is located at the intersection of highways N and V within the unincorporated community of North Bristol, said the situation is equally frustrating to them.
“This is got to be worded carefully, but we have a crowd that’s coming here since we opened the last four weeks, it’s an unwanted crowd,” said co-owner Jerry Wood. “We don’t want them there, probably even worse than the people that are here complaining about them.”
Trio of shootings
Dane County sheriff’s Deputy Garth Blake, who patrols the town, told the masked crowd the three early morning shootings involved:
- On Feb. 27, someone in or near the parking lot seemingly fired shots in the air as they drove away from the area.
- Four days later — on March 3 — a highly intoxicated man allegedly fired shotgun blasts at the building after being kicked out. The suspect,
- with several firearms, ammunition and numerous knives a short time later.
- Several more bullets were fired Sunday outside the strip club in a “targeted” incident.
If the business, which was closed for the majority of last year, does reopen, Blake said the Sheriff’s Office would have extra patrols in the area, particularly around bar time.
Eric Popovich has worked at Bristol Club for 15 years. He said he takes the community’s safety seriously and wants to see the situation improve.
“This is how I feed my family,” he said. “I take my job extremely seriously.”
Annie Tremaine said she thinks the series of shootings are already staining the town’s reputation.
“In a township where we are known for having some of the best farmland in the country ... and we’re known for a strip club where they play shoot ‘em up Wild West, what’s the matter here,” Tremaine said.
‘A touchy deal’
The owners of Bristol Club told the crowd they plan on purchasing an ID scanner to verify an ID’s authenticity, which would allow staff to track and deny entry to previously troublesome customers. They also said they’d be open to hiring private security to help clear the parking lot at bar time and closing the strip club earlier in the night.
Additionally, Wood said he’s also working with his attorney.
“You’ve got to be real careful, because it’s refusing service to certain people and stuff like that and just basically locking your door when a group comes in that we don’t want there,” he said. “It’s a touchy deal.”
Some of the most vocal opposition came from the town attorney, Mark Hazelbaker.
“The club has a right to try to do business, the club has the right to try to exist,” he said. “But the club does not have the right to expect everybody else to turn over heaven and hell to make it possible for them to continue to allow people to dance naked on a bar.”
Saying he couldn’t be objective in the matter, Hazelbaker asked the three-man Town Board to release him from providing legal guidance to the town in a possible license revocation matter.
Instead, Hazelbaker said he plans to represent town residents interested in filing a formal complaint against the club. Shortly after the meeting ended, a group of residents were already lining up to sign onto a potential complaint.
The Town Board agreed to take up the matter again Thursday evening.
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