A crowd is expected tonight at the Berkeley County Public Library in downtown Martinsburg.
Ironically, the gathering won’t have anything to do with books or reading.
Instead that’s when the fate of one of two local “gentlemen’s” (also known as strip clubs) will be publicly discussed.
The West Virginia Alcohol Beverage Control Administration is conducting the hearings to allow public comments on licensure requests from the new owners of Taboo Gentlemen’s Club outside of Martinsburg and Vixens Gentlemen’s Club in Bunker Hill.
No pre-registration is required to attend or speak at tonight’s hearing which begins at 6 p.m., and will focus on Taboo’s licensure request.
A hearing for Vixens’ request will be the focus at Wednesday’s 6 p.m. session that will be held in the Berkeley County Council Chambers in the Dunn Building.
Local citizens opposing the clubs have been working at the grassroots level to encourage others to speak out, said Donna Huffman.
She owns property near the South Berkeley club, and helped organize a group known as CORE (Community Organization for Residential Equity) to protest the clubs’ reopening.
Fliers about the hearings have been distributed to community members, given to area churches and left at local businesses, she said.
Huffman has also spoken with county officials about her concerns, and is hoping state regulators will take them seriously.
But don’t expect an immediate decision from Charleston.
These local hearings are only a part of the agency’s administrative process.
ABC spokesman Gary “Gig” Robinson said a court reporter will be part of the proceedings, and the agency has up to 30 days to transcribe the comments for inclusion in the license application files.
Other paperwork is required at the local and state level as part of the application process, he said.
For example, the business has to be registered with the Secretary of State’s office.
“Before it gets to us, the city has to sign off on it or the county for zoning. In this case, the city signed off for Taboo as I understand it, and the county signed off on Vixens,” he said.
“But you would need to talk to the city as far as what rules they have in order to give it a business license. And you’d also need to talk to the county about their zoning, because look – the county signed off on it for Vixens. They said it is properly zoned, and they signed off on it.”
Berkeley County attorney Norwood Bentley could not be reached for comment.
A man who identified himself as Kevin confirmed during a telephone call that Vixens is now open, but referred all other questions to the company’s lawyer.
Robinson said he was aware the club is open but added selling alcohol would be a criminal violation.
Taboo could not be reached for comment because the listed phone number is not working.
Augusta resident Joe Custer takes this pending decision very personally because his 22-year-old son, Joel Michael Custer, died May 29, 2016, from a drug overdose linked to Vixen’s smoking area.
Custer’s death certificate states that he died from “intoxication by the combined effects of heroin, oxycodone and ethanol,” and lists the “nightclub” as his place of injury.
It also says there were just “minutes” between the onset of Custer’s medical problems and his death.
Kevin Alpha Johnson, 24, formerly of Baltimore, pleaded guilty in April to providing the drugs that killed Custer.
Johnson had also been charged by a federal grand jury in the overdose death of Jorge Armando Mercado-Medrano, 18, who at the time of his death had just graduated from Spring Mills High School.
Nothing will bring his son back, but Custer said he hopes to spare another family this heartache.
After receiving state documents indicating alleged problems reported from the two clubs when they were in operation, Custer said he’d found hundreds of incidents ranging from hit-and-run accidents to overdoses.
“I have done a lot of research and it does concern me about who is coming to these types of clubs, as well as what they are doing. Maybe if we don’t have these kinds of places in our communities another family won’t have to face what we’ve gone through. We don’t want this to happen to someone else’s loved one.”