Nine years after his strip bar in Coates was closed by a federal judge, the owner is reopening it as a liquor store in the small Dakota County town on Hwy. 52.
Richard "Jake" Jacobson spent a decade and more than $100,000 trying to keep Jake's Gentleman's Club open, battling with the City Council and even attempting to register enough illegal voters to sway an election in the city of 161 just south of Rosemount. When it was clear he wouldn't prevail, he thumbed his nose at the town by painting the building a bright pink and paying legal fees he owed the city with 600,000 pennies.
Even as he attempts to mend fences with the locals and start fresh, Jacobson can't resist taking a few more jabs: He says he plans to have a stripper pole and couch installed in the liquor store as a tribute to the old Jake's, and in late November he had a huge illuminated sign, visible from a mile away, placed on top of his building, which has been repainted a dull green -- "the color of money," Jacobson said.
Council members said they hadn't heard about the sign before it was lit up, or about the pole.
"It doesn't surprise me. I don't trust him," said Council Member Marg Karnick.
Karnick was town clerk when Jacobson dumped the pennies. She said she won her council seat as a write-in candidate three years ago, and supporters told her they don't want Jacobson back after the strippers and lawsuits.
But, like it or not, he's back.
Jacobson, who grew up in Cannon Falls, was ordered by a federal appeals court to close the club in October 2002 after a decade of arguing over First Amendment rights. The court ruled that the club violated city zoning and licensing rules.
After his defeat, Jacobson opened a strip club in another small town, Bock, near Hwy. 169 in Mille Lacs County. The Coates City Council rezoned the shuttered club from commercial to residential use. Jake's sat vacant for nine years, a garish landmark for motorists whizzing past the 1.4-square-mile town.
Jacobson resurfaced in 2011 and spent most of the year persuading the council to rezone the property back to commercial. He went door knocking and rounded up signatures from 35 sympathetic residents. He even garnered a letter of endorsement from state Sen. Dave Thompson, R-Lakeville, asking the council in August to "give strong consideration to Mr. Jacobson's request. It is critical that we open new businesses and expand commerce in our towns."
The council initially refused his request on a 3-2 vote in July. In August, the vote was 3-2 in his favor. However, a zoning change requires a 4-1 vote. That happened in September. Jake's Discount Liquor opened in mid-November.
The swing vote for rezoning was cast by Council Member Jim Horsch, who voted no until September.
Antics made impression
Horsch said he decided to bury the hatchet so the city could get the pink building cleaned up and collect the liquor license fee and higher commercial property taxes on Jake's place.
"It's just off-sale liquor. That's all it is. There's no worry about strippers," Horsch said. "He repainted. It looks nice over there now."
"They made me promise no more strippers if they put it back to commercial," said Jacobson, who sports some gray hair at 41.
Residents said Jacobson left a bad taste with his lengthy litigation, pink paint job and how he complied with a court order to pay the city's legal fees of $6,400 in August 2002. Jacobson showed up at a City Council meeting with four $100 bills and dumped 600,000 pennies, weighing about 3,700 pounds, on a sagging table in front of the council. After that the council asked a deputy sheriff to stop by during its meetings.
Failing in the courts, Jacobson tried to rig the City Council election that fall to replace council incumbents with three people who would change the rules to allow a strip club. But county officials got suspicious when 94 Coates wannabe voters registered and gave Jake's club as their home address. In October 2002, the Dakota County attorney charged Jacobson and 94 others with a voter-fraud conspiracy.
Only 79 residents had voted in Coates' previous election.
Jacobson, through his attorney Joe Friedberg, argued in court that his former attorney said a legal loophole allowed him to recruit new voters for the Coates election. Friedberg told the jury that Jacobson's reliance on bad advice "didn't have to be reasonable, it just had to be sincere."
A jury apparently bought the argument and acquitted Jacobson in March 2007. County Attorney James Backstrom remembers the case.
"We had a difficult time with [his plans to] bring in busloads to vote," he said. "It seemed to be a pretty flagrant violation." Backstrom said he appealed to the state Supreme Court, which upheld the jury's verdict.
Back in business
Jacobson said he spent about $400,000 to replace the roof of the building, pour concrete floors, add signs and make other improvements.
On Nov. 23, workers erected the 26-foot-long LED sign proclaiming "LIQUOR" in 4-foot-tall capital letters lit with pinkish-red lights that will be on nightly. Jacobson, who has homes in Bock and Prescott, Wis., said he cleared trees from his two rental homes just north of the store to ensure motorists have a good view.
Council Member Karnick said Jacobson kept asking the council all summer to reconsider the rezoning, and "he gradually got what he wanted."
She noted he did clean up the property and finally has painted over the "Totally Nude. Exotic Dancers" sign on the front of the store.
"If he can behave himself, and not do anything that harms the city," she said, "well, let him be."
Jim Adams • 952-746-3283