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Merchants, Restaurateurs Hopeful Seedy Street Shaping Up

May 13, 1988

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) _ Broadway, the street of sleaze and striptease that has carried on the city’s bawdiest Barbary Coast traditions, has become the target of shopkeepers and cultural groups who want to peel away its seedy image.

Several new restaurants are scheduled to open and a restored theater plans to offer chamber music, dance and opera alongside the blinking neon lights of the avenue’s notorious topless clubs.

Restaurateur Enrico Banducci, who watched the swing era crowd, the beatniks and the hippies pass through in his four decades on Broadway, remembers when the North Beach district street was lined with thriving cafes and nightclubs.

″There was a great feeling and great smells on the street,″ recalled Banducci, 66. ″Now you just smell the street, and that isn’t very nice.″

But Walter Pastore of the North Beach Chamber of Commerce says merchants are now ″showing that Broadway is on an upswing. We have many, many new businesses coming into the area and investing hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars.

″It’s an important area for the city, and people are trying to bring it back to life,″ he said Thursday.

The city’s North Beach area was the 19th century waterfront, known as the Barbary Coast, a place to go for whiskey during Prohibition, and a one-time beatnik neighborhood. San Franciscans and tourists still love it for its history and its remaining bookstores, coffee houses and Italian bakeries.

In 1964, Broadway, which runs through North Beach, gained national notoriety when several clubs announced they would offer topless dancing. Two years later, they turned the idea upside down and introduced bottomless dancing.

For several years, the clubs and sex shops on the now-gaudy street flourished, drawing curious tourists with neon signs and barkers.

But eventually the novelty of nudity wore off, and fewer tourists visited Broadway.

″At one time this was all new,″ said a barker outside the hungry i, who calls himself Rocky Raccoon.

″Now you can go to someone’s backyard and see topless dancing. People don’t have to come to San Francisco anymore, that’s why the clubs are dying,″ he said.

Raccoon, 36, one of the few barkers left on Broadway, stood quietly in front of the club that offers a ″Live Exotic Strip Revue.″

More aggressive barkers, along with shops displaying sex gadgets, is the main reason for Broadway’s decline in the 1980s, Banducci believes.

″People just would not walk down this street because of barkers reaching out, grabbing at them and yelling at them. We all suffered from it,″ he said.

In recent years, several topless clubs have closed, and the strip has been plagued by vandalism, teen-age rowdies and competition from new, chic nightclubs in the South of Market Street area.

The remaining topless clubs probably are threatened by the new restaurants and theaters moving into the area, said Marsha Garland of the chamber of commerce.

″It’s an old idea. You can’t keep the format going for 30 years,″ she said. ″As leases turn over, I think you’ll see other businesses taking their place.″

But Banducci doesn’t think so.

″I think we can all exist and get along fine. I think we can coexist beautifully,″ he said.

″Everyone is concerned about Broadway. ... But to ‘clean it up’ entirely is a misnomer. You can’t do that,″ he said. ″It’s a fun street, it’s been a fun street for the last 150 years.″

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