Adult arcade employees march to protest impending closures

Jacksonville City Council votes 10-9 to close game rooms immediately

By Jim Piggott - Reporter, Steve Patrick - News4Jax digital managing editor

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - About 30 people carrying signs saying Save Our Jobs marched through San Marco Square on Friday morning, protesting the Jacksonville City Council's 10-9 vote to move up the ban on adult arcades from early next year to next week.

The demonstration comes the same day Mayor Lenny Curry signed the bill banning the game rooms.

VIDEO: Mayor signs adult arcade bill

Tanzi Marstre has worked in adult arcades for 11 years and thinks moving up the closing date is unfair.

 City Council voted in May to give us until Feb. 1 and they re-voted and went back on their word," Marstre said. "I have a lot of employees who don't know what they're going to do. They were praying for February and now we've got 75 days until Christmas."

Robin Rukab, who is involved with several arcades, told News4Jax the closings will cost 2,700 people their jobs.

"I work for my kids. My kids are my main priority," Andrew Malasquez said. "Before I was always living check to check; and now, this job is actually helping me a lot."

Many of the signs carryed by protestors called out Councilwoman LeaAnna Cumber by name as she introduced legislation to close the game rooms down immediately. Cumber's staff said she is out of town Friday and they would pass on News4Jax's request for comment.

Two council members are scheduled to meet next week to discuss how to help workers who will be displaced when an estimated 140 to 160 of the adult arcades operating in the city close.

Council members Aaron Bowman and Ju'Coby Pittman have partnered with Career Source and Goodwill Industries will hold a job fair for the displaced workers. It will be from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Oct. 24 at the Emmett Reed Community Center at 1093 West 6th Street in Jacksonville. Applicants are asked to bring two valid forms of ID (driver's license, birth certificate, passport, Social Security card).

Brian Hughes, chief administrative officer for Jacksonville, said city code enforcement and Sheriff's Office personnel will begin visiting the locations as soon as Monday. But given the number of sites to visit, it could take weeks to get to them all.

"We will start a citation process that ultimately leads to the removal of the machines or shutting down the facility," Hughes added.

Already, lawyers for the game rooms are planning their strategy. Upset with the fact the city changed the February closing date, Kelly Mathis, an attorney who has been involved in representing the game rooms since they first ran into trouble in Jacksonville, said he is planning to file an emergency injunction in federal court to keep the latest proposed shutdown from happening.

"If we're a legitimate business -- and they are -- and you are shutting us down, what about the other places? They have crime. They have calls for service," Mathis said. 

That appeal has not been filed since the mayor has yet to sign the measure into law. An existing lawsuit filed this summer on this measure has now been moved to federal court. So far, no court date has been set.

Customers of the businesses who spoke with News4Jax earlier this week also aren't happy.

"The place is not a nuisance whatsoever. If you want to call a nuisance, we've got two girly bars down the street here. Police are called there regularly. Did they close them down? Same difference," said one customer inside Spin City, an adult arcade on the Southside.

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