Editor’s note: This article contains explicit subject matter and language that may be offensive to some readers.
An adult-themed “swingers” club located adjacent to three churches in downtown Lenoir has ignited protest and caused an investigation by city officials.
Western Carolina Friends – which promotes itself on an Internet message board as “probably the coolest club around” – is operating in a three-story building at 901 Ashe Ave., and is owned by Blue Ridge Community Action nonprofit organization.
In the context of the club and a social networking Internet site associated with it, swinging is slang for couples and individuals who engage in various types of mutual nudity and sexual activity.
According to Lenoir City Manager Lane Bailey, no permits have been issued for the site, which sits across the street from First United Methodist Church and one block from First Baptist Church and First Presbyterian Church.
“There’s no building permit issued, and there’s no zoning permit,” Bailey said Tuesday. “No fire inspection has been performed. We’re trying to take the appropriate action.”
The property where the club is located is zoned “B-3 – General Business” and does not provide for adult-oriented establishments. Bailey could not clarify whether or not the club is in violation of the zoning ordinance or if specific permitting is required before such an establishment can operate.
An application has been received from Jimmy Earl Hilton Jr. for water and sewer service at the location. Hilton lists himself as the owner of the building under a post office box mailing address. The post office box matches to a residential property at 5940 Melrose Lane in the Grace Chapel community that is owned by Jimmy E. and Tamatha M. Hilton.
The News-Topic contacted a man who identified himself as “Jimmy” at the telephone number listed in the water and sewer service application. The man said he was on another call and to try back in 15 minutes. On the second call, there was no answer, and a voice mail was left that was not returned.
In addition, phone messages left Tuesday with Blue Ridge Community Action Executive Director Mattie Patterson were not returned.
A Web site for Western Carolina Friends advertised that the grand opening for the club took place Jan. 26 with 80 members signing up for the event. It is unclear how many people actually participated, though many couples with local addresses actively participate in a related Internet adult social network site known as SwingLifeStyle.
An event called Cupid’s Quest Part 2 is scheduled to take place Saturday, Feb. 23, and another one called Where’s Me Gold is planned for March 8.
The news of the operation has disturbed city officials and church leaders. More than a dozen people attended a prayer meeting at Lenoir’s First Presbyterian Church Tuesday afternoon.
“We are deeply disturbed to hear about this,” First Presbyterian Church Pastor Rob Hinman said. “We are very sorry for anybody caught up in that lifestyle. I’m concerned about somebody who thinks this is going to make their lifestyle better.”
Though alcohol is not sold on the premises, the club allows “BYOB” or “bring your own beverage” on the property, according to the site. This is another concern for both church and city leaders.
City officials still have several questions regarding the legality of the operation.
“We’re looking at the alcohol and the zoning,” Bailey said. “The only thing that has happened is they had the water changed. This is not something I would have expected for Lenoir.”
Information from both Web sites indicates differing levels of activity on each floor, depending on the interest of the participants. The club advertises that it has 18 “hospitality” rooms on the third floor, including some with themes. On the middle floor, there is a lounge area, bar, a private dancing room, strip poker, a naked Twister game room, a store for lingerie and sexual toys, and pool tables.
The main level features a dance floor with a stripper pole and stage, along with a bar, a smokers lounge and a midnight breakfast buffet.
Admission price for the first event was $55, and memberships to the Western Carolina Friends are sold for $40 per couple. Prospective members must fill out an application and be approved to participate in the club’s events, according to the site.
The SwingLifeStyle Internet site serves as a worldwide forum for participants in the swingers scene to advertise their interest and availability in meeting other couples or individuals. Members rank their interest in categories of “Tame” “Moderate” or “Wild.”
According to the Web site’s descriptions: Tame participants say they are interested in appearing nude with other people, while Moderates are willing to touch and play with people. The Wild category involves participating in sexual activity with one or more people.
The SwingLifeStyle Web site includes pictures of some of the participants in various stages of dress and undress. Members also can gain access to more sexually explicit pictures. The site does not require a credit card for access, only registration information. A person of any age who has an Internet connection can retrieve detailed information.
Lenoir is not the only area with active swingers groups. Area events currently are advertised for Hickory, Statesville, Kings Mountain, Gastonia and Charlotte. According to Wikipedia.com, there are approximately 3,000 “swingers” clubs worldwide.
Any locale is too close for Hinman.
“Our concern is its proximity to Caldwell County,” Hinman said. “I wouldn’t want to see this happen out in the middle of the woods. I am not naive by the presence of all this and for every home that has Internet access.”
Hinman added that he fears much of the work that has gone into improving the downtown area will be sullied by the presence of the club.
“There’s no doubt that we’ve worked to revitalize downtown,” he said. “This business will do much to minimize the progress we’ve made. You hate to see all that good work to beautify downtown and to have families be able to come here. Do we really want to underwrite a business like this?”