The owner of the former "showgirls" nightclub Tabu Lounge in downtown Traverse City and current owner of a chain of adult novelty stores is returning to downtown Traverse City.
Brad Vannatter – owner of eight Fantasies Unlimited adult stores across Michigan, including one in Traverse City – is opening The Laughing Buddha at 514 East Front Street next week. The store will feature a “variety of smoking products, cloths and unique items,” according to Vannatter. In addition, city zoning regulations stipulate that up to 34 percent of the store's retail space can be used for adult merchandise sales at Vannatter's discretion.
Vannatter says his plans now are solely to focus on smoking products, but adds that as “in any business, the consumer drives the products sold. Any good manager listens to what the consumer wants.”
If adult merchandise were to be added, provided the percentage of stock or floor area devoted to such merchandise remained under 35 percent (the point at which the establishment would be deemed an “adult novelty store” and face stricter regulations), Vannatter would not need city approval nor permits to sell pornography and adult products.
Billy Wood, owner of Lifer Skateboard Shop at 502 East Front Street, is unhappy about the prospect of Vannatter moving in.
“As an owner of a family-oriented company, I have serious concerns about this business being next door,” he says. “It doesn't seem fitting with the other businesses here and the vibe we're trying to create for the neighborhood.” Other nearby businesses include To Have and To Hold Bridal Boutique, Epiphany Salon & Spa and The Cooks' House.
TC Mayor Michael Estes says there's “nothing the city can legally do” to prevent Vannatter from selling adult goods if he chooses, but calls the prospect “pretty disappointing.”
“When I look at the prosperity of downtown and the new businesses coming in and thriving...I don't know why we have to go this route,” he says. “I don't know that the people involved are thinking of the good of the whole town.”
Vannatter's return to downtown comes on the heels of run-ins with both Traverse City and Garfield Township officials in the last two years over Tabu Lounge, which operated from January to March 2011 behind Union Street Station and in November and December 2011 at Logan's Landing. Downtown, the “membership-only showgirls club” drew the ire of city officials, who issued a series of citations – first for hookah smoking, then for operating a business despite ongoing building-use concerns – before the club shut down in March 2011.
In December 2011, tenants at Logan's Landing began complaining Tabu Lounge was again up and running, this time in their retail park in Garfield Township. The venue, which Vannatter claims was a “private film studio” for his fiance and adult film actress, Savannah Paige, opened in November 2011 next door to a children's music store, KinderMusik. Several listings on adult and club websites posted under Vannatter's business email address at the time advertised “BYOB, on-premise” parties at “Club Tabu at Logan's Landing” in November and December 2011 – parties to which attendees could bring their own alcohol and engage in sexual activity on-site.
Garfield Township Planning Director Rob Larrea says township officials launched an investigation into the club in December 2011, at which point Vannatter “agreed to close the business immediately.” No charges or citations were issued.
Traverse City zoning administrator David Weston says that if The Laughing Buddha begins selling adult merchandise, it will be the first business to do so in the downtown district as well as within city limits. City zoning officials and code enforcers say they plan to monitor the store closely when it opens.