Topless bar loses cabaret license, but the fight's not over yet

WAHPETON, N.D. (Valley News Live) - A quiet but heated crowd filled city chambers Tuesday night, waiting to hear the fate of the Oasis Bar.

"I have to say that this is probably one of the most passionate subjects I have been involved with in either the last three months or the entire eight years I've spent on the council," says Tiana Bohn, Wahpeton City Councilor.

"I know I have received calls opposed to the topless dancing, and I've received as many calls - particularly today - in support of the Pausch family," adds Perry Miller, another city councilor.

The bar lost its cabaret license due to a mail mix-up, and owners say the accident could force the more than 40-year old bar to close.

"Give me a year, I like 18 months, but give me a year to keep my family going," says Barry Pausch, the owner of the Oasis Bar.

But women's rights groups, like the Three Rivers Crisis Center and the American Association of University Women - along with some city councilors - say topless dancing objectifies women and could lead to sex trafficking.

"We're fooling ourselves if we think that that doesn't happen with this business or couldn't happen with this business. And why do we want to open the front door for that," asks Wahpeton City Council Vice President Renelle Bertsch.

In a written statement, Susan Rittenour and Becky DeVries, of the Three Rivers Crisis Center, say, "During a time when our country seems to be moving in the direction of making positive changes for women in the workplace, changing an ordinance such as this would be going in the opposite direction of where our community should want to be."

With a vote of 6 to 2, the license was denied - but there's still no closure for either side of the debate.

Two city councilors argued for a sunset clause in the ordinance, which could allow topless dancing at the Oasis for another 12 months. They say the extra time would give the business time to rebrand.

"Since 1964, this has operated with a cabaret one license. And I don't know that 12 more months is really going to be the end of the world," Councilor Miller says.

"There should be an opportunity to change the business plan," says Councilor Bohn.

The sunset clause could be debated as soon as the next city council meeting on March 6th.

The owners of the Oasis Bar say they're interested in possibly rebranding as a sports bar, but they need time to come up with a plan.

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