Star Valley wasn't named for its magnificent nighttime sky, but for a squatter named Starr who was most unpopular with the local Apaches.
Today there is a newcomer in Star Valley that is proving equally unpopular with some of the locals -- especially the congregation of Star Valley Southern Baptist Church.
The church is located just down the road from Pete's Place, now known as the Juniper Lounge at Pete's Place. The two dissimilar enterprises have existed in relative harmony for decades, but Pete's Place is no longer the sleepy cowboy bar and restaurant it once was.
In fact, new owner Joe Soldevere has turned it into what he calls a cabaret or night club. Now on Friday and Saturday nights, the parking lot is packed as a bevy of Valley beauties cavort on a beautiful new pine stage to the sounds of hip hop, rock and, yes, even country music.
Each girl dances for two songs -- the first in varying states of dress, the second topless. Patrons can also purchase a table dance for $10.
"People come in here, they see a beautiful woman, with a beautiful body, slightly undressed, and everybody hoots and hollers," Soldevere said.
Pete's Place was dying when Soldevere bought it last year.
"It changed hands several times for whatever reasons," he said. "It never seemed to click; it just couldn't seem to get revved up like it was in the olden days. I thought an adult entertainment night club could possibly work in this neck of the woods. ... I negotiated a deal, did my research with the county, the laws and licenses and what needed to be done and did it."
Soldevere defends the way he runs the bar.
"I operate under the rules that appear to be standard guidelines in the industry in other municipalities, townships, counties and states," he said. "Even though there aren't any now for Gila County, it's only proper. There's obviously no touching. It's only a topless situation. I could run an all-nude (establishment). I could have pornography and magazines and videos and private booths back there. I could have all of this if I wanted. I don't want to."
The unofficial leader of the opposition is Susan North, wife of Star Valley Southern Baptist Pastor James North. She says she has had no trouble rallying other churches to the cause.
"A lot of people are not for that kind of business in the area," North said. "It's not just one church or group that's opposing it; it's people from everywhere."
North collected more than 50 signatures on a letter she gave to Gila County District One Supervisor Ron Christensen, and she said other churches are preparing their own petitions and letters. In part, North's letter says:
"A local business in Star Valley is advertising itself as a cabaret, which is in flagrant opposition to the Christian moral principles ... It has been stated that it is a topless bar with little else covering the lower parts of the body. I am protesting such an establishment in the community, close to the church and a residential area, and near the street where children catch the school bus to and from school. I would appreciate your making our outrage known to those in authority to put an end to this matter."
Making his case
Soldevere says he understands the viewpoints of those who oppose his establishment.
"I can appreciate and respect the people that want to keep the little hometown flavor and appeal, who want to keep the place contained and control everything," he said. "I moved here for that same reason, but there's some things that you can't contain, some things you can't control.
"There's no question as far as Gila County and Payson are concerned, we're re-inventing the wheel a little bit. But let's step back and say this is 2004. Are we really that removed from the rest of the world?"
Soldevere claims he is on firm legal footing.
"I did my homework, especially knowing that Gila County would be implementing restrictions," he said. "There's already been an ordinance printed in the paper, but I am grandfathered in."
Dancers have been performing at Pete's Place for many years and Soldevere says he can prove it.
"There have been male and female dancers in this building since the '70s off and on," he said. "No one has done it as a full-time venture like we're doing, but the use has been established since the '70s."
The ordinance the county has drawn up will be considered by the supervisors at an upcoming board meeting, probably March 16 at 10:30 a.m. in Globe. It's purpose is "to provide for the orderly regulation of sexually oriented businesses by establishing certain minimum standards ... and to establish reasonable and uniform regulations to prevent the deleterious secondary effects of sexually oriented businesses within the county."
North has little doubt about the nature of those "deleterious secondary effects."
"One thing leads to another and there's going to be prostitution," she said. "I would think the local girls would not be so anxious to be involved with it, but there are plenty of them outside of Payson that would love to live in Payson and get involved in it."
The ordinance limits sexually oriented businesses to C3 commercial districts and bans them from being within a half mile schools, parks, churches, family-oriented businesses and residential neighborhoods.
Christensen said an outright ban of such businesses is unconstitutional, even if a majority of the community is opposed to them.
"We can regulate places like that and require them to be in certain areas and certain distances, but what people have got to recognize is that the Constitution provides for freedom of expression and religion and a variety of other things that don't just apply to a certain religion or church or activity," he said. "That's what we all live under, and if you take the freedoms away from one, you end up taking them away from others."
"They're not going to fight someone's First Amendment rights," he said. "If they could've done something, they already would have, and I mean that with all due respect to them."
Soldevere is settling in for the long haul.
The interior of the east side of the building where the dancers perform has been totally renovated, and he is currently converting the west side, once a restaurant, into a full-blown sports bar, complete with pool tables and a limited food menu.
But Soldevere also wants to preserve the heritage of the establishment.
"People tell me to scrap the name Pete's Place," he said. "I can't do that. There's too much history. There's no signs out front saying ‘Triple X Topless Nudes, Get In Here' and there never will be," he said. "It's not necessary."
And the landmark plastic cow above the Pete's Place sign?
"The cow stays forever and ever," Soldevere said.
He believes those who refer to his business as "sexually oriented" need a reality check.
"We have adult entertainers. We have topless dancers. If you call that sex, then you're going to have to do away with the Emmys and the Grammys and every (music) video.
"The people that come in here are the same people that we see at Safeway, at Bashas', at Wal-Mart. They're the people that are working for the city. They're the people that are building our houses.
"... I am sensitive to the community and I will conduct myself as such ... That's the bottom line, and I invite anyone to come and look for themselves."
(The full text of the proposed "Sexually Oriented Businesses" ordinance can be found on page 8A of the Feb. 17 issue of the Payson Roundup. Or go to "Archives" at payson. com.)