Zen-Den, on the outskirts of Umatilla, is fighting for its right to party. But the strip club and fitness studio might be on its last pole dance.
Umatilla County counsel Doug Olsen said Friday the business lacks a permit to operate, a violation of land use regulations.
“We have issued a stop use order,” Olsen said. “And that should be served on the occupants [Friday].”
Sheriff Terry Rowan said a deputy found no one at the business and posted the notice on the front door.
But Zen-Den spokesperson Justin Evans contends the business does not need the permit. He said this is a case of bossy local governments trying to close down a new establishment they don’t like.
Zen-Den has been operating since December 2016 at 82084 N. Highway 395 in Power City, Evans said. The site is outside Umatilla’s city limits but inside its urban growth boundary. Olsen said the location means Zen-Den still needs a city business license, and the county’s code enforcement division handles that for the city.
Umatilla City Manager Russell Pelleberg said Umatilla has not issued any sort of permit or permission for Zen-Den. Olsen added the building needs improvements to meet code before it can host customers.
Evans countered that the location means the city does not have the authority to issue a license, and there is no reason to pay for a land use assessment or make upgrades to the building because use is not changing.
“Essentially, we’re still a retail business,” he said.
Evans said he does not own Zen-Den, but his booking agency provides the exotic dancers. He is in contact with the business owner and the attorney representing Zen-Den, he said, but would not reveal who they were. The Oregon Secretary of State’s online business database shows no registration for Zen-Den. Evans, who is also a boxer and mixed-martial artist, said the site has multiple uses.
“The Zen-Den is dedicated to the pursuit of Zen,” Evans said. “Who’s to say what that is, right? But to date, we have exotic dancing, pole dance fitness, martial arts and yoga.”
Zen-Den does not serve alcohol, and the few drinks available are pre-packaged bottled water and energy drinks. There is a cover and one-drink minimum to get in. The stage with a dance pole juts from one wall, chairs near the railings ready for customers. The DJ booth sits at the opposite end. Some tables and chairs make up the rest of the spartan accommodations.
Evans was at the club Thursday night and in charge of most operations. Another man worked as security while the “house mom” took the cash to get in and helped Evans with the four dancers.
He said since the “grand opening” around a couple of weeks ago, Zen-Den had maybe 20 customers. The pace picks up around 1 a.m., he said, when folks leave the Riverside Sports Bar and Lounge, one of the other adult entertainment venues in Umatilla.
The city’s mayor, Daren Dufloth, owns the Riverside. And Steve Bunn owns Honeybunnz Hideout, the other strip club in the city. Like Zen-Den, Honeybunnz serves no alcohol. Bunn and Evans have a history of conflict that in early 2015 resulted in a felony assault conviction for Evans. That history led Milton-Freewater months later to reject Evans’ application to open a strip club there.
Zi Chen of Hermiston is buying the property where Zen-Den is located. He owns the Fortune Garden restaurant on Hermiston’s north end. He said he heard a couple weeks ago about the adult entertainment club but was not aware it lacked a business license. He said he pays Preferred Property Management Inc., Hermiston, to oversee the site.
Randy Randall is the principal broker of Preferred Property and is chair of the Umatilla County Planning Commission. He said he has yet to see evidence Zen-Den has been a problem or is violating any rules or laws.
“Without a citation, I can’t take action,” he said.
The people working in the two secondhand and gift shops next to Zen-Den said they have seen no problems with their newest neighbor and didn’t even know who worked there. Evans said the business is open to the public 9 p.m. to 3 a.m. Thursdays through Sundays.
“By the time we open there’s not a single other business in Power City that is open,” he said. “We are completely out of sight, out of mind as far as the mainstream community is concerned. ... I don’t know why anybody would have a problem or a complaint with the facility or the location of it.”
The sheriff’s office last Saturday responded to the club after an anonymous caller report of a fight. But there was no fight.
“What we believe is going on is the competitor in Umatilla is falsely reporting,” Rowan said.
Rowan didn’t specify which competitor that might be. Evans said he had no doubt that was the case and illustrates the unfair treatment Zen-Den is receiving.