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Super Bowl, meet Super Sin City As Windsor braces for next weekend's onslaught, its vice peddlers can't wait for their close-up. PETER CHENEY reports

As Windsor braces for next weekend's onslaught, its vice peddlers can't wait for their close-up. PETER CHENEY reports

In the back of Leopard's Lounge, Barry Maroon's office is a far cry from the carnival glamour of the front-room operation, where a young woman in teetering spike heels dances in the nude beneath a galaxy of coloured spotlights.

Mr. Maroon's digs resemble those of a Wal-Mart manager, with harsh fluorescent lighting, a steel filing cabinet, a multi-line phone and a plain desk buried beneath sheaves of paper.

Managing a strip club is rarely easy and over the past few weeks, Mr. Maroon has had an extra task thrust upon him: He's been coping with a flood of job applications from dancers who want to be on stage for the biggest event Windsor has ever seen -- next weekend's Super Bowl in Detroit, just minutes away by bridge.

"They smell the money, and they want to be in on the party," Mr. Maroon says as he fields yet more calls and faxes. "This is their own little Mardi Gras."

For Windsor, the arrival of the Super Bowl is like winning a civic lottery. Some believe the event will result in a cash flood of up to $300-million for the area. Although most of the money will end up in Detroit, Windsor is doing its best to absorb the overflow -- local hotels are already sold out, the airport is renting parking spots for private jets, and scalpers are doing a steady trade in tickets and accommodations. (One is offering a two-bedroom apartment in Windsor for $1,200 (U.S.) a night. "Take it," he advises one potential customer. "Or you'll be sleeping in the bus station.")

According to the Windsor police, the city could see more than 100,000 visitors over Super Bowl weekend. And no sector is more prepared than its vice peddlers: its casinos, its escort services and, in particular, its renowned strip clubs, collectively known as The Windsor Ballet. It's a bounty of riches that has led newspapers south of the border to dub the town "Sin City."

Mr. Maroon, who will double the number of dancers in his club this week, is by no means alone in his preparations.

"It's going to be money time," says Renaldo Agostino, promotions manager for Katzman Enterprises, the owner of four clubs, including Cheetah's and Danny's ("the only male strippers this side of London!" Mr. Agostino points out). "It'll be huge."

At Cheetah's, in downtown Windsor, manager Pat Tadiello has wasted no time capitalizing on the Super Bowl. Last week, the club's marquee was altered to advertise next week's football-themed extravaganza: "XXX Super Bowl Party -- No Wide Receivers, Only Tight Ends."

Although it was once synonymous with auto manufacturing -- Ford's legendary 351 cubic inch V8 engine was known to enthusiasts as the Windsor Block -- the city has fallen on hard times thanks to mass layoffs by Ford and GM. The employment vacuum has been partly filled by the rise of a "sin trade" created by a favourable cross-border location, a weak Canadian dollar -- and legislative advantage.

In Detroit, for example, the drinking age is 21, while it is 19 in Windsor. On the American side, casino winnings are taxable. On the Canadian side, they're tax-free. Sex for money is illegal in Detroit; the line is more blurry in Windsor (a fact that may account for the four pages of escort service listings in the city's Yellow Pages). Cuban cigars are illegal in the U.S., but legal in Ontario -- and there are dozens of cigar stores in downtown Windsor. At Downtown Smoke Shop, owner Soubhi Assi proudly displays his stock: "I open my humidor, they smell it, and I reel in my customers like fish."

Perhaps the most symbolic difference between the two cities is the legislation governing strip clubs -- in Detroit, dancers are required to wear G-strings, but Windsor permits total nudity. As a result, the city has become as synonymous for strip clubs as Switzerland is for anonymous banking: With a population of about 200,000, Windsor has eight major strip clubs, and many believe there would be far more if the city hadn't put a moratorium on club licences.

"It's not hard to figure out why we're ahead," says Cheetah's manager Mr. Tadiello. "Here they're naked, over there they're not. If you want to see the total package you have to come here." Although Windsor dancers have always done well -- women are reputed to make over $100,000 a year in cash -- the Super Bowl promises a spectacular, if brief, recalibration of the industry's odd economics.

"The whole city's going to be filled with guys carrying money and looking for a party," says Betty, a 29-year-old Cheetah's dancer who hails from Montreal. "Why wouldn't you want to be here?"

Windsor civic officials, however, are less than enthusiastic about their city's reputation as a naked dancing capital. At a midweek photo-op where he was announcing free bus service during Super Bowl week, dynamic young Windsor mayor Eddie Francis (age 31) emphasized the wide range of attractions the city will be offering, including the Budweiser Clydesdales, a football photo exhibit, and a touch-football championship.

"Windsor has a lot going on," Mr. Francis said. "This is a great city, filled with attractions."

Mr. Francis downplayed the city's strip clubs. "Sure, we've got them," he said. "So does Toronto."

Showing off a newly opened restaurant, Mr. Francis evangelized about Windsor and its role in Super Bowl XL, emphasizing what he described as "a seamless border experience," with fans pouring back and forth between Detroit and his city. (Inspector Jerome Brannagan, who is in charge of security, says all 437 of Windsor's police officers will be on duty, as well as a "large contingent" of OPP officers and RCMP, who will be helping in a non-patrol capacity.)

"This is going to show Windsor to the world," Mr. Francis said. "Windsor is the gold seat to Detroit."

Under Mr. Francis, Windsor has mounted an ambitious Super Bowl marketing campaign that includes advertising and billboards on the U.S. side. "I think people want an international experience," he said. "They want to come over the bridge and see a Mountie! They want to come over and see whether we really say 'Eh.' "

Even so, Windsor's earthy charms have clearly been the talk of the U.S. Earlier this month, the Detroit News ran a front page story describing Windsor as "Super Sin City." A widely syndicated Associated Press article followed. The theme was repeated on the Luxist travel website, where a blogger wrote, "Windsor also offers fine dining and a charming small town feel but the lure of the cigars and women may be what tempts people to cross . . . Enjoy while you are there, neither the Cuban cigars nor the ladies can be brought back over the border."

As for the Windsor business community, it seems resigned to the presence of the strip clubs.

"There are people who don't like it, but they're living in a dream world," says Steve Whibbs, a restaurant owner and a member of the Downtown Windsor Business Improvement Association. "There are city councillors who think that Windsor can be this white picket fence kind of place. As far as I'm concerned, they're in denial. The clubs are here, they bring in a lot of people, and they're good citizens."

Mr. Whibbs says Windsor leads the nation when it comes to concentration of licensed establishments -- there are 58 packed into an eight-block section of downtown. "Only Halifax comes close," he says. "But we've got them beat. Today, Windsor is about downtown entertainment. People will have to get used to that. The old days are gone."

Late this week, Mr. Agostino of Katzman Enterprises continued with his Super Bowl planning. In addition to hiring new dancers and laying on the XXX game party, he was planning a dwarf-tossing event. "The football guys will love it," he said.

Mr. Agostino's brother, Remo, was also in high gear, negotiating a Budweiser-sponsored football party at his downtown club, The Boom Boom Room, a clothed establishment that caters to Windsor's young urbanites. "It's going to be crazy," he said. "Money will be made."

At Leopard's Lounge, Mr. Maroon also contemplated an exceptional week of business. He believes the proximity of Pittsburgh will amplify the excitement of the Super Bowl. "The team's a dynasty, and the fans can drive right up. It'll be like having an Original Six team playing for the Stanley Cup."

Mr. Maroon, who has been in the business for two and a half decades, and wears tailored suits on the job, dismissed complaints about the rise of the city's sin trade: "There's nothing wrong with strip clubs putting Windsor on the map," he said. "We are what we are."

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