(Note: This story appears in the July 2021 issue of ED Magazine)
For any ED staffer or long-time convention attendee, it’s inevitable that each new EXPO will bring back memories of previous EXPOs. There are unavoidable comparisons (though this year was certainly an anomaly due to the post-COVID landscape and the fact that we were in Miami for only the second time in the convention’s history), and I’m asked fairly frequently which EXPO was the best, most memorable, etc. As this was my 22nd Gentlemen’s Club EXPO, I have a lot of conventions to look back on.
Though my very first EXPO at the Tropicana in Las Vegas in 1998 will always rank as one of my favorites, there are many others that come to mind. Our first years at Caesar’s Palace and Mandalay Bay rank among them, as do the two years we spent in New Orleans. But more than the dates, cities or venues, what I find most memorable are the people; the men and women who have attended EXPO over the years, many of whom I’ve had the good fortune to get to know.
I learned quickly that this industry is filled with all sorts of characters; from the bold and brash to the soft-spoken and thoughtful, from the big-wig club chain owners to the single- unit, small-town club operators, and everything in between. It was a bit of a whirlwind those first couple of years, as I met more people in a few days than I had met in my entire life.
One of the first owners I remember meeting was a gentleman named Sam Stimmel. Sam wasn’t memorable because he owned a bunch of clubs; he owned only one. He wasn’t memorable because he was a larger-than-life character; he was short and fairly soft spoken. He wasn’t memorable because he hailed from a major club market; his club was in a very small town in Indiana named North Webster, miles from anything resembling a metropolis.
The reason Sam Stimmel was memorable — aside from the name of his club, Stimmelators, which remains one of the most clever uses of a surname this industry has ever seen — is because he cared. He was always front-and-center at EXPO seminars, frequently asking questions and remaining in the room long after the seminars were over to speak with panelists and fellow club operators alike (he even spoke on an EXPO panel back in 2001). I’d see him in that same familiar spot each year, ball cap on and notepad in hand, ready to learn, wanting to be a better and more successful club operator.
Sam Stimmel represented the backbone of the adult nightclub industry. That is, the small-town, single-unit club owner. While there is no avoiding the fact that the industry’s club chains are growing and becoming more successful each year, this industry — and the EXPO — still thrives because of owners like Sam Stimmel.
When we at ED Publications announced in 1999 that we were establishing the industry’s first trade organization — ACE, the Association of Club Executives — Sam Stimmel was one of the first people who wanted to be involved. Sam would go on to found Indiana’s statewide ACE chapter, the Indiana Night Club Association (INCA), back when statewide chapters were a critical component of ACE.
In short, Sam Stimmel represented the backbone of the adult nightclub industry. That is, the small-town, single-unit club owner. While there is no avoiding the fact that the industry’s club chains are growing and becoming more successful each year, this industry — and the EXPO — still thrives because of owners like Sam Stimmel. They are the ones who have fought city councils and “religious” groups by themselves, forced to forge their own path without the benefit of corporate attorneys or deep pockets. They are the DIY-ers, the rebels, the fighters. They’re out there on the front lines of the First Amendment’s freedom of speech and expression. Without them, without their efforts over the past 50 years, we don’t have today’s multi-billion-dollar club industry. Period.
Just a few days ago, I received an email from Winston Hines telling me that Sam Stimmel had died of a heart attack on June 17, just shy of his 72nd birthday. In addition to being a club owner, Sam was an accomplished drummer and played in several bands including an offer to be the touring drummer for Kenny Rodgers’ band. His passion for live music ultimately inspired him to open a rock bar in North Webster that hosted such well-known bands as The Platters, Manfred Mann and Night Ranger. It was this rock bar that he later converted into Stimmelators, an endeavor that brought him local notoriety and years of successful club operation (perhaps in equal measure). It also brought him to ACE, to EXPO, to our ED Awards ballot, and to the front row of our seminars.
Cheers to you Sam, and thank you.