When you mention Williston, North Dakota to people who don’t live there, if they’ve heard of it at all, it’s because of the oil or the strippers making $3,000 a night.In October, CNN Money ran a story on the girls who work at Whispers in Williston, and since then the club has received more attention than it ever wanted.
I was in Williston over the weekend checking out the boomtown growing atop the epicentre of the 640 square mile Bakken oil deposit.
I called Whispers to speak with co-owner Melissa Slapnicka. She wasn’t in, but her bartender told me she was not speaking to the press; that magazines, newspapers, and television stations had been calling for months, but Slapnicka had nothing to say.
For over 120 years, through three oil booms, Williston has remained a close knit Christian community. Strip clubs are tolerated as long as they keep a low profile on the edge of town.
Whispers’ bartender says that the CNN story blew up way too big for everyone’s comfort.
It wasn’t just Slapnicka who has no desire to talk. Knowing that none of the dancers working at the club would speak with me, I introduced myself to some at the airport.
Sitting in the departure area, I heard German, Italian, and Japanese all being spoken by women. These girls were the only ones wearing any amount of makeup, who had clearly taken some time putting themselves together. The Japanese girls had form-fitting pants and bows in their hair. The German girl wore an Armani sweatshirt, the Italian girl, a blue tank-top under the sweatshirt she’d taken off for the TSA.
A flight attendant told me that the foreign language speakers were “probably dancers,” who fly in and out constantly. But as soon as I mentioned where I was from and that I’d like to speak on the record, they clammed up.
When I asked local girls, service workers, bartenders, etc. if they had any insight into the dancer scene, most made a face and shook their head. Some express disbelief at how any woman can deal with a scene like that.
“I get enough of these guys when they’re sober,” one waitress told me. “I can’t imagine what those girls go through.” When the topic of the dancers comes up several people speculated that the IRS had become a problem for the girls who may not be claiming all the money they earn.
While it’s impossible to be sure, the number of men to women in Williston is said by most people I spoke with to be somewhere around 85 to 1. Walking around town, in clubs, stores, and speaking to men and women, they all agreed the number had to be right around there. From what I saw, it couldn’t be far off.
In addition to Whispers there is also Heartbreakers immediately next door.
A local businessman who works with the city, and asked not to be cited in relation to this story, told me that Whispers was up for sale last year at around $1.5 million. It sold to Slapnicka and her partner, but before it did, Heartbreakers had opened.
“We have had no permits issued to build any new restaurants since I can remember,” the man told me, “but that second strip club popped right up. Now that’s how you know this is a boomtown.”
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