MYRTLE BEACH,SC (WMBF) - What do you think Myrtle Beach is known for? The beach? The golf? The restaurants? What about the strip clubs? For some, that's the case.
When you're making that drive on US-501 into Myrtle Beach, you pass Coastal Carolina University, Freestyle Music Park, then Tropical Beauties, Fantails and Club Cabaret.
"I think they're really rather disgusting," said Myrtle Beach resident Margo Taylor.
Taylor Bagley, a student at Coastal Carolina, added, "Myrtle Beach wouldn't be the same without strip clubs."
Like them or not, they're hard to miss.
"These are in the county; they're not in the city," Myrtle Beach Mayor John Rhodes said. "But the public doesn't know this."
Rhodes says the reality is there are only three adult clubs in the City of Myrtle Beach. And they're all on Seaboard Street, an area that the city's Planning Commission considers a "light industrial area" - a place where there aren't many businesses.
"You want to have everything coming into this city first class," Rhodes commented. "I don't feel that the county is protecting that image by allowing the 501 Corridor to be set up like it is or be zoned as it is."
According to Janet Carter, an attorney with the Horry County Department of Planning and Zoning, places like Tropical Beauties are registered as regular bars, restaurants or nightclubs, not adult entertainment establishments. So technically, there are no licensed adult entertainment establishments in Horry County.
If they were classified that way, by Horry County law they would be required to be 2,000 feet from homes and churches.
"We're not a crime; we're not a black eye," said David Birch, manager of Derriere's Gentlemen's Club, one of the three adult clubs in Myrtle Beach city limits. "They're worried about whether someone sees a sign that says 'Girls, girls, girls.' They better wake up and get in the real world."
Myrtle Beach Area Chamber of Commerce President/CEO Brad Dean says the adult industry is not one his organization wants associated with the city.
"We think the adult entertainment industry is inconsistent with the brand we like to promote - good, clean, family, friendly fun," he said. "Personally, I'd be fine if we didn't have any clubs, but they're legal, permitted by local government and they're protected by the U.S. Constitution."
Rhodes added, "You go to other resorts and you don't see this image projected as you come in."
Ten years ago, Myrtle Beach City Council leaders asked Horry County Council for extra zoning permission, which require clubs on US-501 east of the Intracoastal Waterway to comply with the city's zoning rules. If they didn't, they would have to close in two years. They would have the option of moving to an area like Seaboard Street.
Carter says each time this proposal came up, County Council members at that time didn't think county residents should be subjected to city laws.
"As the mayor feels his hands are tied in certain issues, I feel that my hands are tied with this issue," said Horry County Councilman Bob Grabowski, who said he recalled the proposals well. "Some of them are there and have been there since before we had zoning, so they're classified as kind of a legal non-conforming zoning status, which means they can stay there."
Grabowski acknowledged the market is there for adult clubs to success.
"If there wasn't a market for it, they wouldn't be here. If nobody was going to see them and nobody was going to these clubs, they wouldn't be here," he said. "People that are going to go those types of businesses are going to seek them out. They're going to find them. We could put them behind warehouses, and people are going to find them. They don't need to be on the main drag."
Birch says he doesn't understand why people would want to legislate the clubs when they work. Birch says if you add what all of these clubs make in a year, you would be surprised.
"Probably $25 million in six months," he said. "March, April, May, and September, October and November, probably $25 million amongst us."
"I don't think the clubs themselves make the area that much money. Now the clubs make a lot of money off the area, but no different than Walmart or McDonald's. Tourists frequent those places, but they don't come here because of those," Dean explained. "The ideal solution for us would be to locate them in areas where we don't all have to see them and then everybody wins."
The county still has an option of allowing the city to zone parts of US-501, which means the gentlemen's clubs there would have the option of moving to an area like Seaboard Street, or they would have to close.
"Sure, if they want that. We can have a Broadway at the Beach of adult entertainment," Birch laughed. "That'd be a great thing."
Grabowski says for the time being city leaders will keep trying.
"I'll get with the mayor and maybe we can get them to move, but we're going to have to bring them to the table to [do that]," he said.
Rhodes has a plan: "Start with the county first, then get to the club."